“Hey Jansen, do you want to play Star Wars with me?” Jordan (7) is peeking his head around the corner to the living room, looking for his younger brother Jansen (4). Their eyes meet and Jansen jumps up, excited for the opportunity and honor of playing with his older brother.
Jansen knows from experience that these invitations are have a tendency to expire at a moment’s notice. He is careful not to make any demands and even happily accepts “the bad guy’s” light saber for their ensuing battle.
The light saber battle commences, and I couldn’t be prouder. Jordan’s blonde wavy hair sways to the beat of the two light sabers making contact. Jansen’s little stocky body stands so proud and tall – in an attempt to convince his older brother that he in fact is a worthy playmate. They both make the same “light saber sound”, which apparently is a mix between spitting and an electric current running through a long stick-shaped flash light.
Right before my very eyes, sibling rivalry is turning into brotherly love! (This post contains links that help support the blog.)
Our “Sandwich Boys”
Watching our two boys “in the middle” (the second and third born) play together nicely, interacting without tears or screaming, and agreeing on the terms of their game is nothing less than a miracle.
These two have been like oil and water, Tom and Jerry, even Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner for the past year.
They have struggled with their dual roles of being both big brother and little brother. The littlest one has annoyed the bigger one to no end and the bigger one has been unable to see neither the humor nor the cuteness in this behavior.
I have been mad, sad, frustrated. I have yelled, begged and pleaded to no avail. It wasn’t until I sat down and looked objectively at the situation that I realized several key mistakes I was making… and it dawned on me that we were even fueling the fire at times.
I recently started reading a select few parenting books. One of my favorites is “The Danish Way of Parenting”, not only because it details exactly how I was raised in Denmark. But also because their logical, empathetic and laid-back approach to handling “conflict” is easy to implement – and you see immediate results.
When talking about “reframing”, changing your perception of a situation “The Danish Way of Parenting” quotes a famous Danish psychologist, Allan Holmgren:
“A problem is only a problem if it is referred to as a problem.”
This way of thinking resonated with me and how we were addressing our children’s sibling fights and rivalry.
It dawned on me that perhaps their disagreements became exacerbated when I jumped in to referee something that perhaps didn’t require a referee. Imagine that – a mom who feels that everyone should get along perfectly ALL THE TIME!
[bctt tweet=”The 8 best #parenting tips to turn #sibling rivalry into brotherly love – from a mother of four boys!”]
I continued to read the book, implement changes to how I reacted and addressed issues, and slowly – ever so slowly has the tide turned for our little “sandwich boys”.
How did we get from screaming matches to friendly light saber battles? I can’t say that one “thing” in particular was more effective than another. I believe it was the sum of all of our efforts that slowly is making a positive impact on our children.
The 8 best parenting tips to turn sibling rivalry into brotherly love:
- Don’t segregate the children.
- Our nanny used to keep the two “repeat offenders” separated from each other, which over the long term caused more harm than good.
- They didn’t learn the skills to effectively (and calmly) communicate with each other. Instead they were encouraged to avoid interaction, which I only found out recently.
- Now I keep all the kids in the same living area in the afternoons while we do homework. This can some times lead to frustration, especially when the kids are tired from a long day at school.
- However, avoiding each other is not a permanent solution, so now we take each “battle” as they come.
- Give them the opportunity to work towards a common goal.
- I give the kids chores or tasks from time to time. It has been a great experience for the two kids who don’t get along to help each other with a project. Especially if there is a “reward” at the end, such as family movie night.
- Ignore the little squabbles.
- Have you ever worked 2’ away from someone day in and day out? Did that person after a while start to grate on your very last nerve? Perhaps she was a loud-chewer, apple cruncher or lip smacker? Chances are that you got annoyed with her from time to time… the same rule of life applies to siblings.
- Kids get tired of each other, just like adults do. Does it mean that they NEED a referee every time there is a disagreement. No! Let them try to work (small) things out on their own.
- Take a step back, watch and observe quietly, although I know it is REALLY hard not to intervene. A lot of times one will concede for the sake of keeping the game going – and that helps develop healthy conflict resolution skills later in life.
- Interfere before it escalates.
- But there is always exceptions to the rule. At the end of a long day, when everyone is tired, hungry and just about fed up with the world, it can be nearly impossible for kids to “work things out” on their own.
- If I start to see fists forming, growling and frothing at the mouth and steam rising from their little ears, then I calmly get in between them to help them communicate more productively (and less physically.)
Focus on positive behavior.
- Catch them doing something nice!
- According to my other favorite parenting book “Easy to Love, Hard to Discipline”: “you get more of what you focus on” – which has become a personal mantra of mine.
- In the beginning you may struggle to find enough nice gestures between the two siblings, and that is to be expected and it reaffirms WHY you need to help with their relationship.
- Jordan asks Jansen every day how his day at school went. After Jansen has answered Jordan, I casually say “Jordan, it was very kind of you to ask Jansen about his day. Thank you for showing him that you care.”
- Seeing Jordan then smile from ear to ear with his toothless smile reminded me of how important it is to recognize the good in people.
- Give them individual time and attention – and space.
- Having alone time with mama and/ or dada, especially in larger families is crucial to young children.
- We can always tell when life has been hectic and we have been too preoccupied juggling four boys. The kids then crave our attention and they will get it some how – regardless of whether it is negative or positive.
- We now make a point for one of us to spend one on one time with each of the kids at some point during the week – and the effect is immediate and positive.
- Remember that some sibling rivalry is normal and healthy.
- The kids have to find and establish their place in the family hierarchy.
- However, their disagreements and squabbles should not interfere with the family peace, nor should it be hurtful physically or emotionally.
- Give your kids opportunities to play competitive yet friendly games with each other. We play board games in the kids’ rooms and soccer out in the backyard… and also friendly light saber matches from time to time.
- Give opportunities to be thoughtful and kind towards each other.
- For Jansen’s birthday, I took Jordan with me to buy Jansen’s birthday presents. He also helped me put together a list of birthday gift ideas for Jansen. Jordan really rose to the occasion and took the job of picking out things that Jansen would like seriously.
- The second best result from that exercise was seeing Jansen’s eyes light up when he heard that Jordan (who he idolizes) picked out all his presents. He was awestruck.
Our kids are far from perfect. Their interactions and relationships are real and some times raw. Living in a family with four boys is NOT easy – especially not when you are one of those four boys. But the conflict resolution and negotiation skills our kids will have by the time they are young adults will rival that of the country’s best hostage negotiators.
Until our boys become grown men and hopefully then respect each other’s quirks and personalities, I will sit back and enjoy the light saber battles as much as the disagreements over who looked at/ copied/ touched/ ignored/ chased/ sat on/ pinched/ yelled at/ kicked who, because this too shall pass.
My favorite parenting books. They were both quoted and referenced in this post!The Danish Way of Parenting
Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline: The 7 Basic Skills for Turning Conflict into Cooperation