Q: How to maintain my own inner calm while my kids (4 yr.old girl and 8 yr. old boy) have their emotional upheavals, arguments and dramas. I try several calm techniques to help them work through things, and when those don’t work I yell and they stop or figure out how to work it out…but it almost always feels like the yell just bursts out of you. Do you have any suggestions?”
A: This is a great question, and I applaud your use of calming techniques. It’s helpful to use deep breathing techniques to calm the kids down, and so you don’t feel emotionally drained by their fights. Here are some practical, and doable ways to reframe how you see, and deal with, the sibling relationship.
“Leave me alone!” “Get away from me!” That’s mine!”
Those words, when screamed at a volume that can shatter an eardrum, send a message to a parent’s amygdala that something has happened, and this is a state of emergency.
That message the amygdala receives triggers the fight or flight response causing the body to release cortisol and adrenaline in less than 90 seconds.
The problem we face as parents is our stress receptors can’t distinguish between real life/death danger and the stress that parenting and our child’s behavior creates.
Does it always have to be this way? No. When you reframe what disagreements, bickering and fight teaches siblings, you shift your perspective. Shifting your perspective changes how you’ll want to handle fights from now on.
Kids Learn from Fighting
When you look at a family tree you see that siblings are recorded on the same branch of the family tree. That symbolizes their equal status in a family. The sibling relationship is a child’s first opportunity to learn about, and prepare for, long-term adult relationships.
Brothers and sisters teach each other about give and take, even when they don’t want to. Each fight allows siblings to practice how to love a person, even when you don’t like what that person did. Siblings are constantly learning tolerance, patience, and kindness. Most of all siblings are learning about conflict resolution. Parents have to guide and teach them, not resolve things for them.
There’s a Big Difference Between Fighting and Rivalry
As I’ve stated sibling fights teach valuable skills, however sibling rivalry can damage a relationship, if allowed to continue.
Change your mind
Begin by reviewing the beliefs you have about siblings and fighting. Instead of thinking that sibling fights must be stopped at all costs, reconsider what feelings are trying to be expressed. Recognize that bickering, arguing, and fighting are an expression of a deeper need to be heard.
Once you’ve reframed how you see sibling fights, you’ll understand that your child is showing you an area where he needs to learn some added skills. Making this shift in thinking will immediately calm things down.
Help siblings resolve things
When a parent decides who’s right and who’s wrong, and what should be done about that, one child remains angry, and the other one feels like the winner. They’re not working together to learn and practice the resolution skills they’ll need to be successful in life.
Be a Facilitator
To learn more about the art of parental facilitating read, Siblings without Rivalry by Faber and Mazlish.
New Rule: We DO NOT hurt those we love!
Defining the rule sounds like:
Reminding kids of an unbreakable family rule is a great way to level the playing field, so to speak, and begin working toward resolution.
Comparing, and the Message it Sends
• promotes competition, and ends up making one child feel unappreciated and unloved.
Here are some examples of the message a child hears when a parent compares them to a sibling, and what you can say instead.
1. Statement: “Why can’t you keep your hair neat like your sister does?”
This mindful way of addressing siblings is subtle, yet powerful, and isn’t accusatory. One way promotes rivalry, and one way promotes communication, equality, and leads to resolution.
I hope this helps.