Sunday, July 6, 2014

Sibling Rivalry

I finally dusted off my old copy of Siblings Without Rivalry and Oh.My.God…. I should have opened this book YEARS ago!  Years meaning as soon as I was pregnant with my second, who is now 2.1 years old.

Lately I had been using basic reframing and acknowledging feelings, but it just wasn't doing the trick.  I needed more help.  After reading the book, I was doing all of the things this book tells you NOT to do too. Ooops.  

Just basic things like labeling your kids ‘she’s my little active one, she’s my quiet one.” And always pulling the ‘work it out, work it out’ or ‘let’s try sharing, take turns!’ Uhm. Ahem…don’t we all?

And then I read the book and I am now determined to change, because let’s face it. Going through the ‘not getting along’ phase is going to be the rest of my life!  Does sibling rivalry ever end really?  I really want to make a difference in my girls’ lives.  I don't want to look forward to the years of fighting in the backseat or hearing who is not sharing.

For you readers, I will attempt a book review here, but seriously the best thing to do it just buy Siblings Without Rivalry on Amazon for 9$, or your local book store.  It’s an easy and fast read and I love the different approach the authors take in writing it chapter by chapter as if they were teaching a workshop.

The first example they use in getting parents to empathize is to imagine this scenario:

    Imagine that your spouse puts an arm around you and says, "Honey, I love you so much and you are     so wonderful that I've decided to have another wife just like you!"  When she arrives you see she is       much younger and cuter and when you are out in public people say, "isn't she adorable?" then they       turn to you and ask, "how do you like the new wife?"

    Then, your husband comes in and takes clothes out of your closet and gives them to her, because she     needs new clothes. When you protest, he points out that since you've gotten bigger, and they are too       tight on you, they will fit her perfectly.

    Then the new wife wants to use the new computer you got for Christmas, and when you tell her it's       yours and she can't have it, she runs to your husband crying and he comes in and says, "you need to       learn to share!"

Pretty good perspective huh?

Of course there are many examples in the book of how older kids pick on younger kids and also younger kids pick on the older ones too (which happens in my house a lot)!

The first step?

-Accept and acknowledge all emotions. If we want to 'end' the bickering, then the very emotions that we want to close the door on and lock out, need to be invited in, made welcome and treated with respect.  If we forbid the anger and rage, they will reappear in other forms, physical symptoms or emotional problems.

Simply saying, "you are being ridiculous, you have no reason to feel that way" or "you make me very angry when you say mean things about your brother..I don't want to hear it!"

Hearing things like that from parents may make you despise your sibling even more and you feel misunderstood.

It's MUCH more helpful emotionally to hear parents say things like:

"You look like you are feeling really sad that he is not sharing with you"

"It must be very hard for you having a sibling around all the time."

"I want to know how you feel...because your feelings are very important to me..."  "Take as much time as you want to tell me what's bothering you"

Wow, hearing those words from parents can make all the difference in the world.

What to do when you see siblings disagreeing?

1) Put the feelings you see into words:  If your child is saying, "You're always with the baby!" Then saying, "You don't like me spending so much time with the baby" can help validate them.

2) Have the hurtful emotional actions stopped, then redirected:  Instead of telling your child to stop whining about a sibling, say, "It's no fun being left out.  Want to draw me a picture of how you feel?" Or have them  hit a pillow, 'use your words to show how angry you are' such as "You can tell your brother very loud, I'm MAD!"

The book has a TON of examples in it of real stories.  One that really stood out is when a mom sat down with her child while the other napped, and put her arm around her and said:

"I'm glad we can be alone together, because I haven't talked to just you in a long time.  I've been thinking..sometimes it must be a pain in the neck to have a younger sister.  You have to share everything with her, even your mommy" Wow, really gets ya!

Comparisons and Putting Kids in Roles:

The next chapter talks about how we put our kids in roles and compare them without realizing it.  Roles such as 'the hard worker', the 'lazy one', the 'tom boy', etc.

And parents comparing kids: "Alex why do you always have to keep the family waiting while your sister was in the car 10 minutes ago?"

And I found myself doing it too the other day, "This one doesn't eat a thing, she is a terrible eater, but my other daughter eats her fruits and vegetables much better!"  Poor things, I am already assigning roles to them AND comparing them. I am setting them up to compete and feel bad about things before they are even old enough to understand!

What to do?

1) Don't say anything about a child that is in reference to the other siblings. Instead, DESCRIBE what you see, like or don't like:

Instead of "You don't leave a mess lying around the house like your brother does"  say,
"I see you picked up your blocks, put away your truck and the puzzle pieces." No comparing and no roles assigned.

2) Then describe what needs to be done:
"I see a new jacket on the floor, it belongs in the closet" and then when they comply, "I appreciate that, I like seeing our hallway looking neat."

The book also talks about making things equal and what you can do to avoid that complaint from kids. "But you gave him more cookies!"  Or comparing attention, love, needs, etc.

It also gives great suggestions on how to stop roles we give kids like assigning a child as the 'bully', or playing a 'victim' role, and children with disabilities.

Then of course they assign an entire chapter on How To Stop Fighting with older Children!

How to stop the grabbing toys from each other, to name calling to actual physical fighting. Right now in my house I have a lot of grabbing toys and not sharing, to my youngest pushing and biting my oldest child and laughing about it.  The mornings we don't have anything planned start off so nice and fun, and then after an hour I am trying to get them out the door to distract them because I can't hear anymore:

 "it's mine!  I had it first!"

The authors give great tips:
-Acknowledge the anger you see: "You two look really mad at each other!"
-Listen to each side respectfully: "I see, so it was your idea to build a tower with the blocks, but you saw the fun she was having and wanted to build one too."
-Express faith in their ability to figure out a solution, "That's a tough one, you both want to build a tower, but I am sure you two can figure out a way you can both do it"
-Leave the room: "I'll be cleaning the kitchen while you two work it out"

This helps them learn how to work things out on their own (which will help them as they get older in the real world) and can help stop the tattling and constant relying on parents to solve everything.

Of course it works better with older kids who can understand, but you can still use the language with toddlers.

An example for toddlers, when a child starts to grab a younger baby/toddler sibling, say "No hurting your sister, You can show me your feelings with your doll (or show me on this paper how mad you are!)"

For Physical fights with older kids, they suggest the following:
-Describe what you see: "I see one boy on a chair about to throw a block and the other one about to hit with a baseball bat!"
-Establish limits: "This is a very dangerous situation, people are not for hurting. We must have a cooling off period"
-Separate them: "You to your room, you to yours"

They then go into what to do after situations like this as well as what to do in 'other situations' like teenagers, fighting over property, when kids play fight, etc.

Can you tell how excited I am to have finally read this book? I can't wait to start putting these skills to practice. I'll get back to you on how it's working.  In the meantime, anyone have any other tips that have worked??  I know there are moms of 3 and 4 kids out there with tons of practice :)

AND LASTLY, Remember, that parents put too much pressure on themselves to 'say it right' or 'do it right' all the time.  Don't be so hard on yourself if you mess up! You always get a second chance with your children :)


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