Does it seem to anyone else that the amount of sibling bickering goes up in the Summer?
I think this increase could be due to a combination of a changing/different rhythm to the day, (possibly one where less structure is present than during the school year) and the weather where the children are outside and in an expansive gesture most of the day (and therefore needing help to come back to an inward gesture).
I don’t think completely eliminating any conflict is what we are shooting for as parents. After all, siblings are often the first place one often learns about boundaries, hopefully about not being “passive-aggressive”, about being able to say “no”, hopefully about how to say “no” politely (!!); in short how to handle conflict. Knowing how to handle conflict is important. I like what Barbara Coloroso says in “Kids Are Worth It! Giving Your Child the Gift of Inner Discipline”: “As parents we don’t have to purposely create conflict to teach our children how to handle it nonviolently. Conflict happens. It’s how we view conflict that will make a difference in how we approach it. Both brickwall and jellyfish parents tend to view conflict as a contest, something that somebody has to win and someone else will inevitably have to lose. In a contest, especially one involving intense feelings, emotional or physical aggression becomes the tool of choice.”
Coloroso goes on to discuss how a brickwall parent approaches sibling fighting (with threats and physical punishment, yelling) or how the jellyfish parent avoids the whole thing (“Leave your brother alone when he is feeling like that” “Don’t fight, just love one another.”) Whilst I think Coloroso’s book really applies more to children ages 9 and up, I like her ideas regarding discovering what kind of parent (Brickwall, jellyfish, backbone) you are and what you are probably modeling for your children in terms of how you solve conflict in your family. If you need further explanation as to brickwall, jellyfish or backbone families, please see this back post: http://theparentingpassageway.com/2009/02/10/what-kind-of-family-are-you/
Here is a link to Barbara Coloroso’s book: http://www.amazon.com/Kids-Are-Worth-Giving-Discipline/dp/0060014318/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1279714009&sr=8-1
Here are some simple tips for surviving the “Summer Bickering”; take what resonates for you and your family:
1. Go back and make sure you at least have a skeleton of a rhythm going on. Are there consistent meal times, snack times, awake and rest times? This is especially important if you have smaller children.
2. If your children are outside most of the day playing and swimming, is it possible that they need a few days of “no pool” and being inside more? Even an 8 or 9 year old will not be able to tell you they have had too many days of swimming in a row- but their behavior will show it. Or conversely, is it possible they are not getting enough energy out and need more time playing outside or swimming?
3. How much time are you spending with your children? Are you helping them by setting out a craft activity or a game or play scenario? Are you expecting your four and five year olds to entertain themselves for hours on end?
4. How much are your children helping out around the house? If they are “bored” and don’t know what to do, work is a good helper in sorting that out.
5. How much are you doing as a family for fun? It doesn’t have to be expensive. Even something simple such as picnic on the floor or gazing at the stars together can be wonderful.
6. What is the consequence of fighting with a sibling in your house? Just saying over and over to not fight is probably not going to change much.
I know many books, including Faber and Mazlish’s “Siblings Without Rivalry” talk about listening to each child’s side with respect, acknowledging the problem, and essentially having the children come up with solutions. I think many times small children need more help than just “work it out”. However, Faber and Mazlish also say that with children who may NOT have an idea how to work it out, that YOU can decide what to do in the situation – and sometimes you take a child with you to do work/chores (in other words, separate them for the moment and give them something else to do). I think this works well with smaller children, or just when things are so heated they cannot be worked out in the moment.
If your children are physically hurting each other, then describing what you see and saying “Everyone must be safe in our home” and separating the children is the best step you can take. There must be a cooling-off period, and there must be restitution.
7. Do your children need some time apart? For a child ages 7 and up, do they need to have a play date at a neighbor’s house by themselves without their little brother or sister coming? As attached homeschooling families, sometimes it is hard for us to think of separating the children, but sometimes they do need their own space.
As always, take what resonates with you. You are the expert on your own family.