Now that it’s summer and the kids have far more time together, MrH and I have been challenged to really figure out a response to the sibling fights that are bound to happen. We have long realized that these arguments, and how they are or are not resolved, will be the base of their future conflict resolution skills. No pressure, of course, but it’s a BIG deal! That knowledge wasn’t enough to give us the skills we needed to parent in those moments though. We would get so frustrated and just started doling out solutions and consequences without a clear plan. This, of course, led to lots of inconsistencies and the kids didn’t learn a whole lot of positive things from it.
I’m glad to say that this has changed. For the past month or so, we’ve responded to their sibling issues in a consistent and predictable way. We held a family meeting where we laid out the new plan and so far, they’ve been very responsive to it! I should say that we define an “issue” as anytime that a child either tattles, we hear yelling at each other, or we notice unsafe or unfair play. While some say to not ever intervene, we have decided to intervene and use it as a teaching and problem solving moment. We have decided that our children send us specific messages to let us know that they need help in their play. Those messages are undoubtedly different for other kids in other families, but we are choosing to respond to the ones we’ve noticed in our kids. Here’s our plan:
- the parent calls over the kids who were involved
- we all take three deep breaths or do five jumping jacks – something to give Middle One a chance to collect his bearings and his words
- each child gets the chance to explain what happened, from their point of view. Interrupting or correcting the speaker is not allowed: “you’ll have your turn in a minute.” We do help them find words for what they’re describing, esp the 4 year old still needs a lot of that. Sometimes we add in what we saw, if it seems relevant/helpful.
- “what are we going to do now?” We want to get the kids to a point where they can suggest an apology, way of making amends, or a solution on how to continue in their play. We still have a long way to go with that though and frequently offer a few suggestions.
- the kids then go off to try the solution they/we came up with.
So far, this has been great! I love having a response to implement in moments that used to be pure frustration. The kids appreciate knowing what to expect. They also don’t actually want to stop play and I’ve noticed them using some of the tools that we’ve been discussing with them. You know, the simple ones: “can I use that swing now?” (instead of “NO!”) “I’m not quite done yet, but how about in a minute?” “ok.”
Another nice one: “get off my sandcastle! I mean, you’re ruining my sandcastle, but do you want me to help dig a moat around it?” “no, I want to make the castle bigger.” “but you’re taking the top off right now and breaking it.” “can you show me?” “ok.”
Siblings will always have their conflicts, but I pray that our children will learn respectful and loving conflict resolution skills on which they can build well into adulthood.