A Positive, Empowering Approach to sibling Conflict
by Isobel Mary Champion, Parenting Coach (aka The Mummy and Toddler Calmer!)
It is important to try to forge a positive relationship between siblings early on. The relationship between siblings will probably be the longest relationship of their lifetime, and they need to know that they are playing for the same team (not batting for opposite sides!).
Be the team coach!
Having spent over a decade working as a top London nanny (yes, I am a real-life Mary Poppins, and yes, I do have a magical bag full of everything everybody could possibly need!), caring for groups of siblings numbering up to six, I can tell you for a fact that looking after siblings is hardly ever easy! But it is such an important job, and such an important role to play, because siblings are their own little team, and more than anything they need a good team coach. They need tolearn to protect each other, defend each other, and care for each other. They need to know that family comes first! But they also need individual space, individual possessions, individual interests, and room to develop individual personalities. They need to learn that It is ok to be different. Learning to grow as a team outside and inside the home will be a bumpy ride, but as long as you have your positive coaching hat on, you should be able to lead them in the right direction, and empower them to be their best as individuals, and as a team!
Let them play rough sometimes!
Your home environment is your kids’ rehearsal space for the outside world, and this is often where much of the conflict between siblings arises. The home is their safe space for practicing the situations and conflicts that they may come across in the real world – therefore you will often find them honing their skills in arguing, fighting, name-calling and roughhousing! This does not mean you are failing as a parent, or that your team leadership skills are not working! This is natural, your offspring are practising for survival in the outside world- think lion cubs play-fighting in the safety of the family unit. As long as this play-fighting is supervised andtakes place in a controlled environment, and is gentle enough that nobody gets any real scars, try not to worry too much! Gentleness and empathy can be taught go hand in hand with a little rough-play and arguing.
Things will change over time!
The numbers and ages of siblings can raise or lower the conflict stakes (this will be fluid and will naturally change over time), and individual personalities will come into play. One group of siblings is totally unlike any other, and your little gang will require a different team management strategy from that of your friends and neighbours! The grass may be greener on the other side, but no doubt your neighbours are peering over thinking just the same thing! As a parent there is only so much you can do – the personality, temperament and developmental stage of each child will play a big part. Think back to your own childhood, and your own siblings. What was the power balance like? Who was the leader? Who had the strongest personality? Where were the alliances? And did things change over the decades? How about now? Are those relationships the same, or have they transformed or blossomed into something new?
Just try to remember – you are not the referee (keeping score and issuing penalties), you are the team coach! Think of your little crew as a sports team, or a boyband on tour. Your goal is to make them perform as best as possible as a group, to teach them strategies for good sportsmanship, personal growth, group ambition, and resilience in the face of disappointment – and to share your own wisdom and experience with them. But you have to acknowledge that it’s not always going to be perfect. There may be injuries, time-outs, one membermay leave the group and go off and start a solo career or join a rival team, but in the end the bonds between the team members will be strong enough to hold them together in the long run. Give yourself a pat on the back, and shout “Go Team!”!
Here are my 5 top tips for a positive, empowering approach to conflict resolution between siblings:
Your first job is to de-escalate the situation as quickly as possible. Charging in as a “peacemaker” with a loud voice and your finger pointing will only raise the conflict stakes, and give your children the wrong kind of attention (a shared desire for your attention might be the hidden cause of the conflict!). If you get angry and raise your voice, you will only provoke the “fight-or-flight” response, and risk making things worse. While it may feel like you are avoiding dealing with the issue, de-escalating is actually the most effective way to deal with the immediate problem. Don’t worry, you will address the conflict later when everybody has calmed down (see tip 5!).
Use Reason – a calm, firm, matter of fact explanation or resolution to the issue.o Use Humour – joke about it (encourage sense of humour!).
Use Distraction – turn their attention elsewhere (let’s Skype Grandma!).
Use Alternatives – offer a high value alternative (time for a movie?).
Use Food – if this has happened just before a mealtime, hunger might be the cause. Try giving them a breadstick!
2. Encourage apologies, empathy and affection
Encourage both siblings to apologise nicely (eye contact, kind voice, kind face) to each-other for their part in the conflict. Encourage them to give each-other a hug and a kiss on the cheek (nice for little ones), and make sure that the other is ok. Highlight any scratches or bruises that need extra care! Enlist their help in first aid if necessary! This will teach empathy skills and strengthen the bond between siblings.
3. Share the blame (and the punishment!)
Don’t always blame one sibling, especially if he or she has been exhibiting more challenging behaviour lately(sometimes the “good” or smaller (more innocent!) sibling is to blame! If you are dishing out a punishmentor consequence, share it between siblings (e.g. no TV for all, or they all have to pick up the toys on the floor!). This will not only encourage all siblings to behave better, but your children may even bond unexpectedly over a shared punishment! PLEASE NOTE: it takes two to have an argument! Even your most innocent little angel may not have been as innocent as you assume – even a cheeky pout can set off a battle given the right (or wrong!) circumstances!
4. Have a “Team Talk” later
Discuss what happened later when everybody is calm, quiet, and have full tummies! It can be nice to do this when you are all cosy together in your pyjamas (near bedtime?), or sharing a special treat together. Make sure to give all siblings affection and physical contact. Kindly and quietly bring up their dispute, and acknowledge that it wasn’t very nice for anybody, that you love them all very much, that they all love each-other, and that they need to look after each-other. Try asking them if they have any suggestions for how they could have managed their own behaviour better.
5. Anticipate conflict situations
If a situation is coming up where you can anticipate a conflict, try having a “Team Talk” beforehand (I always do this before playdates with a visiting guest of one sibling, or a multiple guest playdate!). This may sound a little corny, but imagine your family are a baseball team about to go out to bat, or a boyband about to go on stage. Take a quiet moment to have a team huddle, say some positive words, acknowledge that this might be tricky, give them some encouragement, tell them that you love them, and that you want them to do their best. Outline a strategy of what you would like them to do if tempers start to fray (e.g. come straight to you and speak quietly about the issue, rather than starting a fight). Add in a high-five and a group hug if you can manage it! This will start the situation off on a high for everybody, and is a good way to teach them leadership skills!
Good ground rules to set (for adults as well as children!):
1. No shouting
2. No interrupting
3. No hitting
4. No hurtful name-calling
5. Always take turns and share
Visit my Parenting Coaching website for more positive, holistic, empowering parenting solutions and guidance:www.isobelmarychampion.com
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Isobel Mary Champion, Parenting Coachwww.isobelmarychampion.com