You’ve had it with your kids fighting; your ears are ringing from all the yelling. It’s almost the holidays and frankly, with this type of fighting going on, you’re not sure you’d want to take your kids anywhere. What’s up with this anyways?
You want the sibling rivalry to stop NOW and stop happening so often. Here’s some insight and some proven effective tips that will help to move you from beyond frustrated as a parent, to understanding the root causes and how to facilitate the fighting so it becomes an opportunity for understanding rather than another time out in their room!
It’s age appropriate
You might think that ages five to seven is when kids are old enough to understand that hitting is wrong, and should be able to make better choices. If you do think that way, then you’d be like most parents—you’re not alone.
While your five to seven year old’s knowledge and vocabulary have increased A LOT, their emotions are still very BIG. When they are consumed by overwhelming feelings, a child unconsciously reverts to a much younger emotional age and to a more familiar way of expressing himself. This is when he uses a physical representation of how he feels, he hits! Even if you’ve told him a million times not to. All this gets you fired up causing you to shout, “Why don’t you listen? Stop hitting your sister!” which you quickly follow up with, “Why did you DO THAT?”
What’s Really Going on?
When a child hits, he becomes afraid because he knows he shouldn’t have those feelings, yet he does.
He feels alone, sad, fearful, and still mad. He has no idea where these feelings are coming from, so he cannot answer your “Why did you do that?” question right now.
Most parents focus on the result only, the hitting. Which causes them to begin thinking their child is “bad” and that leads to the worry that they’ll be kicked out of school, never make friends, or worse!
The truth is, he is not bad. He’s just consumed by these feelings and unable to make sense of them. When he’s emotionally consumed like that he isn’t able to listen the way he normally would either.
Think of the last time you were really mad and consumed with all encompassing emotions. You likely tuned out all the voices and noises around you so you could find your center again….this is similar!
The interesting thing is that most of us are still working on managing the same issues as adults because, as kids, we never given those skills either.
Seeing Sibling rivalry through a 5-7 yr. old’s eyes
Before his sibling came along, every smile, every look, and every hug belonged just to him. When his sibling was a baby, it was easy to accept the role of “big brother” and be sweet because the baby was tiny, couldn’t talk, and mom was still able to give him everything he needed, even when she was with the baby.
Now, after the age of 2, that baby brother or sister has developed a personality! She makes mom laugh, and mom tells big brother he has to wait till mom is done with little sister before she can help me. That causes the older sibling to use his immature thinking (which is totally age appropriate) and wonder, “What’s wrong with me? Aren’t I as good as the baby?” He’s afraid he’s lost his place in the family.
The way your child thinks isn’t the way you think
Remember, your child still relies on immature thinking. When he experiences a jealous feeling he misunderstands it and decides, “I found a way to get mom’s full attention. When I push my sister, I get all of mom’s attention. Sure, mom may yell, and I will be punished, but that’s the cost of getting attention in this family.”
I’m sure you can imagine how that immature thinking can cause a misunderstanding that will spin itself into the child’s subconscious and affect every relationship that person has as they age.
Many experts tell you to spend more time and shower your child with endless amounts of love. That will help, but it doesn’t heal. This is one of those situations that requires a perception change before any new strategy can work. Parents need to see their children from a different perspective.
Your child knows you better than you know yourself
Your child has been translating your energy and watching your face and body language since birth. He knows every nuance of your facial expressions and body language. He knows the vibe you put out when you’re shaming, judging, and disapproving, even if you try and hide it. So shifting your perception of your child and his behavior needs to occur before attempting any strategic methods to change anything.
Heads UP: Rely on your intuitive mothering sense here. If you have a nagging feeling that this behavior is more complex than what I am describing in this post, trust yourself and have him tested.
Changing your Perception
Here’s what to do next to shift from frustration and anger to understanding and calm.
Kids need your clarity and acceptance to release their multi-layered feelings. When you empathize before correcting your child, he:
• learns that we all make mistakes, some of which are whoppers.
• discovers he’s safe enough to express his big feelings.
• understands that he can trust you with the things he would rather not express.
• experiences that you are there to guide him through this instead of shaming, blaming, judging, or holding him responsible for something he can’t fully control yet.
The best part of this process is that when any person feels and expresses their emotions in the presence of empathy, the feelings begin to release. Tears are shed, anger is expressed, and the parent proves they are there to create a safe space for the feelings to be released. This process is one of the key pillars to building resilience.
Three ways to recognize the motivation behind the hitting
Here are three steps that help prepare the path for addressing the motivation behind the hitting.
When I say reconnect, I’m not suggesting you ignore the hitting and begin playing.
Re-connecting opens your hearts to each other and helps move you away from yelling and punishing.
The connection I’m referring to focuses on the feelings that motivated the behavior, not the end result, not the hitting, not yet.
This is why I asked you to adjust your perception of your child and the behavior before reconnecting. It’s hard for any parent to hear; “I hate her; make her go away.”
Hearing words like that provokes a primal need to protect the younger child. We want to react to those feelings by saying, “That’s not nice; we don’t think that way in this family.” But, instead, we need to pause. That response will only make your older child feel even worse because he does think that way.
Your calmness during reconnection sends the message we all have “rage storms, it’s uncomfortable, but I lived through it, and so can you; rage storms pass because we release big feelings in this family, but we don’t act them out.”
We’ve all said, “Stop whining, can’t you see I’m busy with your sister?” But, those words only underscore his fear that he’s losing his place in the family to his sister. He thinks, “Here’s proof she doesn’t love me anymore; she only loves her!”
Instead, try saying, “Waiting is hard; I’ll fix that as soon as my hands are free. Should we count to ten or 15 to see if my hands can get free before the time is up? You decide how long we should count.”
Those words do several things
The words connect you at a critical moment—the moment when things can either erupt in anger or fill a need. The silly game lightens the moment. It’s takes a potentially explosive moment and shifts it toward learning how to manage impatient waiting. It also shifts your child’s brain from emotional to logical thinking. And finally, and most importantly, those words and game let him feel valued again. They give him power by allowing him to choose if he wants to count to 10 or 15.
As an adult, I know your logical mind thinks punishing and yelling are a straight line to changing behavior, but it’s not.
It’s a straight line to misunderstanding, repression, and a guarantee that the behavior will return because no prevention or skills have been taught.
Once you’ve connected, it’s time to laugh. Laughter reinforces the feeling of safety that connecting created. Maybe let him make silly faces as you guess what they are while you wind up whatever you’re doing.
If he needs more attention or comfort have him stand silently next to you while you use one hand to rub his back. That physical gesture is an excellent affirmation of love and maybe all he needs. Either way, you’re giving him the attention he needs on your terms so he doesn’t swallow his rage and hit again.
Talking comes last, not first. I know you want your child to understand that he’s not allowed to hit—period, full stop. But to stop the behavior, he has to hear your words so he can remember the skills you share and what you will do instead. All of that requires listening; no listening occurs if you’re mad or scared.
The talking I’m proposing is not a lecture about how we don’t do those things; he knows that. Instead, the talking focuses on the feelings that motivated the hitting. The rejection, isolation, sadness, jealousy, and unfairness are the feelings that caused him to be so overwhelmed that he reverted to using physical aggression to express himself.
Feelings can be healed when they are brought to the surface. But many kids won’t talk about feelings because they’re still stuck in them; they’re operating from the emotional brain, not the logical brain. To open this up, ask questions and then remain silent. Questions require the brain to shift from emotional thinking to logical thinking.
You’ll know releasing is in full swing if he starts crying or raging again. He may even move on to sobbing. During those moments, you’ll hear, “I hate you; you’re mean; I’m running away.” This is normal and not meant to cause you to think of him as the “bad” kid or the enemy who must be managed.
Instead, he needs empathy as he trusts you with his darker fears. He needs words like, “So, you feel like I yell too much, I’m mean, and I don’t listen to you. That must make you feel sad. And you think it’s your sister’s fault, right?”
You’ll know what to say; you don’t need a script. Just go from your head to your heart and express empathy because empathy dissolves anger.
This is just one of many examples of how to navigate the complicated waters of parenting in this modern age. We all know parenting is a complex job these days and it’s especially hard when we weren’t parenting well to begin with!
It’s my mission to help the modern parent break the chain of pain that parenting from a wound has inadvertently caused.
When you are ready to tackle deeper feels and more strategies to help you parent in a way that creates a lasting loving relationship while preparing them for the complicated world of the future, you’ll find a resource here.
Here’s a couple ways you can work with me:
30 Breakthrough Choices for Kids that Ends Arguing about Your Rules. This is my gift to you.
Or snag a Holiday Sanity Savers Session. This focuses on all the things the pop up at this time of year. Things like how to stop the incessant “I Wants” from ruining gift giving. Or how to deal with the dreaded thank you notes so the process is fun, ways to create and maintain a safe space when friends and family are around so kids don’t have to act up to get your attention. Or anything you want solutions for before the holidays.
The Holiday Sanity Saver Sessions consist of four, 30 minutes sessions, you can book any time from November 1st- December 13th, 2022.
Let’s get you ready and excited for this holiday season, even if it’s still on Zoom.
Now, go hug your kids,