I had such a lovely response from all of you mothers from this post: http://theparentingpassageway.com/2011/05/07/quick-responses-to-sibling-rivalry-new-baby-in-the-house-and-more/, which was generated by Chapter Four “Kids Versus Kids” in our chapter by chapter look at the book, “Love And Anger: The Parental Dilemma”.
I have talked to many mothers locally and on-line regarding sibling relationships. It is all well and good to know that siblings fight, many mothers say, but what do you do when the behaviors children display between one another are literally tearing the family fabric apart or worse yet, driving a wedge between spouses or partners?
These are my personal ideas; I guess I view things differently than many of the parenting books. These ideas may or absolutely may not work in your family and they may not resonate with you in the least possible way. Every child, every sibling relationship and every family is different. I will some words about the blended family in just a moment, so if you are in that situation, then please bear with me.
To me, name-calling, teasing, fighting, and those kinds of behaviors all have pretty strong limits in my home because I find it hard to function in an environment that is not kind. It frustrates me pretty quickly, and so for me, I had to set boundaries on it. I expect my children to treat each other kindly and if they don’t rise up to the occasion, I expect them to rectify the situation. I have hammered into their heads (not Waldorf at all by a longshot! LOL) that friends will come and go, but siblings are forever and whilst it is the job of a mother and father as parents to take care of all of their children, siblings also take care of each other because that is what families do. I also expect the children that are older to have tolerance and treat the younger children kindly and protectively, especially if that younger child is under the age of 7. However, I also expect the younger children to be able to respect the boundaries an older child may need on spending time alone or with friends his or her own age.
My main response to situations where feelings are hurt, names are said, physical things is simple redirection, work and reminders and looking carefully at over-stimulation, hunger, sleep, or if the child really needs to get some physical energy out.
But, if these behaviors persist, my thoughts (and again, these absolutely may not work for your family so take what resonates with you!) go in this pattern (and this would work more for situations where one child is over 7 and the other siblings are smaller, or perhaps situations where one is a teen and the others are smaller):
1. The children must need more structure and work on my part. Busy children are too busy to fight out of boredom and such (obviously this does NOT apply well to a three year old and a baby or a five year old and a toddler!).
2. If you are ugly in the house, we cannot take that outside the home, so any playdate or fun thing for the afternoon is gone. We can’t take that ugly out into the world with our friends!
3. Or I may be thinking they have not acted in a way where I want to go with other children in the afternoon, but maybe they need to come with me and go hiking or go sit by stream and just be. Sometimes that can soothe the hardest of days.
4. I think about who may need one on one time with either me or my husband, and I also think about if they need something separate for themselves. I have really seen my nine year old spend time with a special close friend just themselves, no younger siblings about, and be really just so satisfied to be able to play an uninterrupted game on their level. I can’t always make it happen frequently, but I do try when I see the need for that!
5. If you have children nine and above along with children smaller than age 9, one thing I have seen other families use is to set up social times where both children have a playmate to play with. ie, the nine year old of the house would have a nine year old over to play, and the six year old of the house would have a six year old to play. I think this can also work well with smaller siblings when you have teens in the house and the smaller siblings are just hanging around with nothing to do and wanting to be with the teen. There needs to be time together as a FAMILY, but it is also important, especially I think if you have a smaller family of only two or three children all spaced out, for children over the age of 9 to have time with peers of the same age without younger siblings. It can also be fun if you have a bigger family to mainly have social time with other bigger families where everyone can be together or pair off…This is one of those areas I think you will find your own way based on your own family. But I do caution against expecting your teenager to want to include your five year old, and that if your five-year-old is the only other child in the house, then you may need to have a project for that five-year-old and take charge of that time so things go smoothly.
6. Restitution. If you hit each other, then your hands will work for each other. If you are four and you hit the baby, I will redirect those hands into work but also into doing something positive with your hands for the baby. And then I will do my part to make sure the baby is in a sling or something so you don’t have to control yourself all day long, but only in bits and pieces. If you are over 7 and using your mouth to tease your younger siblings, you must need to do something for that sibling to show love because in this family we love each other.
7. So more DOING, less WORDS. What I just outlined is my thought process, not necessarily what I would say to my children.
A special note for my blended families: I think it all starts with you and your partner. You must talk about these issues ahead of time and have agreed-upon ways to handle things. You must get very, very clear TOGETHER what behaviors you both accept and what you will not. I have some blended families really benefit from counseling to go through this process, because otherwise they can get in a situation where they are just going around and around about his child and her child and not much action is getting accomplished. In the end, it is about creating a NEW family. Attachment Parenting International recommends Imago therapists: http://gettingtheloveyouwant.com/ I would love my blended families to chime in here! I think having a blended family requires the parents to really be a united front, to really think things through, to work with compromise as well. What has been your experience?
Lastly, I found this decent handout regarding sibling conflict from University of Iowa, and I think it brings up good points about siblings in general, although the wordiness of the techniques I would not use with children under the age of 7. It also brings up things about sibling abuse, which is something no one seems to talk about:
Many blessings, hope that helps and again, take what resonates with you and your family.