Dear Family Coach,
Dear Peace-seeking mom,
The other day my daughter Casey had a play date at our house. Her little friend, Samantha, was polite, cooperative and a delight to have around. At 5 o’clock, when her mother and little sister arrived, everything changed. She grabbed anything and everything her sister wanted. The screaming began instantly. Then Samantha decided she would just exclude her sister (but her sister wasn’t going to let that happen). So my daughter, Samantha and her little sister began a game of you-can’t-catch-me. Samantha shrieked and threw a tantrum whenever her sister got near. Her little sister cried every time they ran away and the mother tried unsuccessfully to intervene. After 10 minutes I was fed up.
Anyone who has more than one child or has siblings of his/her own knows this is a pretty common scene. The older child doesn’t want the younger around, and the younger only wants to do what bigger kids can. It gets out of control when parents try to intervene. Children see that they can gain their parents’ attention by bickering. The younger child generally annoys the older one without yelling or hitting until the older one breaks. A physical fight ensures. When the parent enters the room, he/she typically says one of three things:
Who started it? (A question guaranteed to yield an unusable answer.)
Stop fighting. I am tired of it. If you can’t get along I am going to . . . (but you never actually do)
________ (Insert the name of your older child), I am ashamed of you. I expect you to behave better.
Eventually parents feel like referees without actually solving any of the issues.
While there are several ways to minimize the amount of arguing among your children, there are some benefits to sibling rivalry. Children with siblings are forced to learn cooperation and conflict resolution at an early age. These are important life skills that your children will take with them to their jobs, marriages and community. When parents become overly involved they not only provide the (negative) attention their children seek, they also decrease the possibilities that their children learn to work it out on their own.
Here are some ways to begin to bring the peace back into your home.
Don’t pick a sides. Parents often try to figure out who is at fault and give them a stern word or even a punishment. The problem is that at least 95 percent of the time it is impossible to know how it began. Often one child is the instigator while the other takes it to the next level. Both are to blame (even if not equally). When a parent takes sides the children learn negative behavior=your attention. The more you intervene, the more you are actually encouraging them to fight. Stay neutral and your children will see that fighting isn’t a way to get you close.
Make everyone accountable for their behavior. Offer children a warning when you first hear an escalation brewing. If there’s no immediate resolution, provide a second chance. Should the argument continue, they both lose. So, for example, if they are bickering over a favorite Dora cup, no one gets to use it. If they are pushing each other on the couch while watching The Wizard of Oz, the TV is turned off. With consistency your children learn quickly that A. You will not get involved; and B. In the end they will lose even if they aren’t to “blame.” Through this process they will develop vital conflict resolution and sharing skills.
Foster a loving relationship among your children. This may seem obvious, but parents often forget to verbally remind their children that sibling support, respect, and love are vital. Praise your children when they are good to each other. If they fight often, work extra hard to catch them doing something kindhearted. This positive reinforcement is essential for breaking the negative attention/referee cycle.
Spend quality time with each child individually. One of the main reasons children argue is to get their parents’ attention. Often children feel they are competing with their brothers or sisters. By doling out attention separately, parents teach their children that they do not need to compete. Each night choose one child to get special time even if it is 15 minutes before bed. Pick a different child on Saturdays to take to the library or the ice cream parlor. Your children will relish this attention and will not feel so needy at other times.
Catherine Pearlman is the founder of The Family Coach which provides in-home assistance to families struggling with parenting issues. Catherine also reaches out to the community with seminars on a variety of issues. The topic for the next seminar on January 16th is Sibling Rivalry. If you are interested in attending or would like to contact Catherine visit her site at www.NYFamilyCoach.com
Catherine is hosting an upcoming event for parents on January 16 at "It's My Party" in Mamaroneck, NY. For details, see below.
“Sibling Rivalry: What you need to know to keep the peace.”
Does it seem like your kids fight every waking moment?
Do you dread even the shortest car ride with your children?
Do you feel more like a referee than a parent?
If the answer to any of these questions is ‘Yes!’ this is a hands-on seminar not to be missed. Catherine Pearlman (aka The Family Coach) will explain why siblings fight, what parents do to encourage this behavior rather than discourage, and how to break the cycle of constant fighting.
By the end of the seminar, you will have a new appreciation for sibling dynamics and very straightforward tools to use to resolve disagreements. Learning these tools will improve your relationship with your children as well as their relationship with each other.
This workshop is perfect for parents of children aged 1-18.
Location: It’s My Party, 114 West Boston Post Road, Mamaroneck
When: January 16th, 2008, 7:30pm – 9pm.
Cost: $35 includes dinner
RSVP: Catherine@NYFamilyCoach.com or 914-433-4558. You can pay online at http://www.nyfamilycoach.com/templates/YellowBlue/payment.php or contact Catherine for other options.
Catherine Pearlman, LMSW has been working professionally with children and families for 14 years. Catherine started The Family Coach, LLC. which provides in-home assistance for a wide variety of problems, such as sleep issues, behavior challenges, ADHD, toilet training, separation anxiety, new sibling adjustments, new parent concerns and transitions from bottles and pacifiers. To learn more about Catherine's services or attend one of her seminars check out her website at http://www.nyfamilycoach.com/.