Many parents believe sibling fights are something kids should work out all by themselves. I think that’s like giving a 2-yr. old an axe and asking her peel a carrot. She hasn’t been taught what to do and will most likely hurt herself or someone else along the way. Parents have to teach their kids the skills they need so they don’t emotionally hurt themselves or others.
One way to help siblings work through their differences and bickering is to be a parental facilitator, not the parental judge and jury. What’s a parental facilitator?
Webster’s defines facilitator as someone who “helps others take action and move forward, to assist the process.”
I define parental facilitating as stepping out of the judge and jury role and stepping into neutral. When you facilitate, you do not take sides, even if you agree with one child against the other.
Let me be clear, kids do need to learn how to resolve their fights. Since you won’t be going to school with them, or interacting with their peers, they need you to teach them about conflict resolution, not react and try to stop their fights.
Here are 6 guidelines for facilitating fights between siblings.
#1: Be fully present
Nothing is more upsetting than talking about your feelings while the other person is doing something else. Put your cell phone down so you make it clear that you’re fully present and ready to hear your child.
#2: Make physical contact
If they’re comfortable with it, look them in eye and touch them lightly on the shoulder.
#3: Everyone has a voice
Asking the same questions to each child involved in the situation gives them each a chance to express their point of view. Sharing what they’re feeling is what makes them more willing to find a resolution that they will abide by. Make sure that all involved are invited to share their version of the events and offer resolution suggestions.
#4: Empathetic/Active/Reflective Listening
This form of listening has two parts, acknowledging feelings and repeating what you heard the other person say. This method allows you to express empathy, without taking sides or changing the situation. This helps teach kids to respond, not react to each other’s anger.
Mom: “I hear two girls who are angry at each other. Let’s talk about this, instead of shout about it. Julie please tell Ashley why you’re mad? Ashley, now it’s your turn, tell Julie why you’re mad?”
Repeating What You Heard:
Mom: “Julie, I heard you say that you both were playing dress up and Ashley came and took the scarf you needed, right?
Ashley, I heard you say that you took it because you love blue and always use that scarf.
Girls, that’s what I heard, is that what you meant??
If anger is still present after they give their version of events, have them sit down, take some deep breaths, and begin again. The fact that they’re still fighting doesn’t mean the method isn’t working. It means there are still some feelings that need to be expressed before they’re willing to attempt a resolution.
#5: Clearly state what the true problem is
Mom: “So the issue is, you both want the blue scarf, right?”
#6: Problem Solve
Remember, you could resolve this in a heartbeat, but it’s time for the kids to learn how to work things out. When you raise the bar on your expectations and believe that the kids can do this, then you guide them with this method instead of insisting they stop it now, they do rise to the occasion.
This is where tip #6 from yesterday’s post, asking for examples of how others problem-solve, comes in handy. Your job is to make sure that only one-person talks at a time, and no one manipulates or overpowers the other one.
Mom: “This is a problem, but I’m sure you two can solve this one. What ideas have you seen others use in situations like this?”
You’ll be amazed at how quickly the kids will come to a mutual agreement since they were able to express their feelings. There’s no magic wand here. Each situation is different.
Facilitating allows fights to become a growth opportunity. Your kids get to say how they truly feel, and they aren’t being forced to stop the fight without resolving the underlying issues.
Your job is simply to ask one question at a time, to both kids. Then remain neutral and let them decide how to apologize and establish any new rules that need to occur as a result of the fight.
Remember, they will learn as much from success as they will from failure, so be neutral and facilitate the learning versus being Mom the Almighty.
Details, tips and sample conversations for this method can be found Mindful Ways to Correct Behavior, ages 2-5, and in Motivating Listening and Cooperation, ages 5-13, at the Proactive Parenting store.
When you use these ideas as your roadmap, your kids learn life skills, are empowered to practice them daily, all of which creates respectful, responsible children who are problem solvers, not problem makers.
Now, go hug your kids.