Play Works Better Than Punishment When It Comes to Sibling Fighting

A Guest Post by Emilie Leeks


Sibling Rivalry Survival GuideOur 7-year-old's behaviour towards his younger sister can seem quite vicious, much more so than it is towards our youngest child.

He might hit, kick or push her for some very small reason, something as innocuous as she “looked at him.” One day, he ended up hitting her for walking past him, even though she was nowhere near him. Apparently, he said, she was “in his way”.

My husband got between the two of them but our oldest still managed to reach around to get another hit in. I looked at him as he moved away, and said, said “Uh-oh!”

In our house, saying “Uh-oh!” lightly can lead to giggles and chase games if the time is right. Fortunately, I had judged it well on this occasion and he grinned and raced off as I followed.

We ended up on our sofa, doing lots of tumbling about together, punching pillows, and fighting to get out of blankets.

I started by saying, ‘If you really want to punch something, let's punch a pillow,” and I had fun punching the one he was holding. Then he did the same to me, and the game grew from there.

There was a little incident in the middle of all this where I said or did something a bit silly. He really latched onto that and laughed and laughed hard. At one point, he hit me with a balloon, and I fell about in a very exaggerated way with lots of screams and shouts. He loved that.

In fact, we both had loads of laughs. We were falling about together laughing a lot of the time, which is quite significant to me because I find rough play quite a challenge in itself, and something I've worked on a fair bit in my own Listening Partnerships.

Playing like this, a tool called Playlistening, is something we have been working on with him. Although it can be hard for him to get to laughter, we feel we are really breaking through and understanding much better what it is that gets him going. It was interesting to me that he didn't seem as rough or aggressive as he often can during Playlistening. It was all quite good-natured in fact!

playful parenting, sibling rivalry, positive, parentingWhy Laughter Helps Children's Cooperation and Confidence

Later that day we went swimming. Our oldest is notorious for being the last ready, and for needing constant reminders of what he needs to be doing, but on this day, he was the first one ready – before and after the swim – and before we'd even asked as well!

He also tried some challenging activities by himself in the swimming pool and accepted my suggestions for some tricky things to try.

After the swim, and as soon as he was dry and ready, he offered to give the swimming costumes a rinse, and went off and did it completely independently. He even let his sister tag along to watch.

He showed more flexibility and initiative and was all smiles, laughter, and independence.

Our whole family dynamic has shifted hugely since we started using these Hand in Hand tools – things are so much more peaceful, joyful and calm than they once were. A big part of that has been learning to be more playful, specifically in relation to our eldest, who is autistic. Laughter and play can help bring things back from the brink of his overwhelming feelings and boosts connection between us all as a family.

Why it Works:

Sibling tussles can be really difficult for parents to see – and the conventional view is that we should respond with disapproval, threats of punishment, or other stern actions. However, once we understand that a child who is lashing out is actually feeling stuck – that their emotional brain has some hard feelings to offload – we can start to think about these off-track behaviours in a different way. (You can download our Sibling Rivalry Survival Guide here.)

We might set a warm limit on the behaviour, and then listen to our child’s feelings as they ‘push’ against our limit. But another great way to tackle off-track behaviours is to go playful. This can seem really counter-intuitive at first, but is extremely effective in allowing our children to offload whatever is bothering them, and helping them to move back to their usual clear thinking. We have found playfulness to be a wonderfully useful tool in our belt.

Meet The Instructor

Hand in Hand instructor Emilie LeeksEmilie Leeks lives in Berkshire, UK with her husband and three children. She is a certified Hand in Hand Instructor with additional experience in speech, language and communication issues.

This post was originally published on Emilie’s blog Journeys-in-Parenting. You can also contact Emilie through her Facebook page.

For more on ending sibling squabbles at your house, download the Sibling Rivalry Survival Guide now.




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