This post is geared toward children aged 7 or 8 and their younger siblings…Sometimes it can seem as if there is bickering or fighting much of the day, especially when the younger child hits about 4 or 5.
What to do?
Here are a few thoughts, in no particular order:
1. Always go back to looking at your rhythm; are you holding the space enough? Are you present enough? Many times when the children are just playing all day, they need something more structured to hang their hat on for a bit, and then some time of free play, and then something with a bit more structure. The “structured” part doesn’t have to be anything insane; perhaps you all go for a walk together, play salt dough molding or crayoning together; perhaps you all cook something together. Just something where you, as the parent, are involved and engaged and present.
2. It is difficult to leave small children unsupervised; if you are in the kitchen baking and they are in their room playing, things may go well or they may not. It may be worth it to think through what your thoughts are as to where the children can and cannot be when you are doing something; it may force you to look at the usage of space in your home such as do you have an area in which they can play in the kitchen? How can you be present with them? What part do they have in your work?
3. Outside time. I cannot stress the importance of outside time enough.
4. Who is in a stage of developmental disequilibrium and what do they need to function best? More rest, more outside time, more one on one time with you? How are they eating and what are they eating?
5. They may not be able to “work it out”. Children under the age of 9 are pretty immature when it comes to “working it out” (sometimes mature first-born girls can be an exception and be fair). You need to be there to help. And to be helpful, you cannot judge what is going on. You can distract, re-direct, and listen!
6. If this is usually happening around dinner time, here are some suggestions and pick and choose what resonates with you: start dinner earlier in the day with a crock pot or by at least doing prep work for dinner after lunch; make sure dinner is not too late; look at what activities are occurring around dinner time and can those be moved at all so you are not rushed; and here is the biggie: ALL HANDS ON DECK! Everyone eats, so everyone should be helping to get dinner ready, to set the table, to take out the scraps to the compost pile, and everyone should be helping to clear the table and do the dishes. Chores are often the least-used method of guiding family bickering, and yet doing chores whilst you are PRESENT (NO SENDING A FOUR OR FIVE OLD OFF TO DO CHORES ALONE!) is one of the most effective methods of keeping everyone out of trouble.
7. Respect how your children feel in the moment, but DON’T read too much into it and think their future relationship as adult siblings is going to be permanently marred by this single interaction… Children are going to say they hate their brother or sister. Try to help your child move forward with a hug and warmth and “Wow, that is so hard. Something he/she did really upset you!” Don’t add a whole lot of words into it for them either. Sometimes just saying it, and getting it out is enough. “You REALLY didn’t like that!” “That really bothered you!”
You can always “fall back” on a “house rule”, but this means you must have “house rules.” Things that just are not acceptable in your family. What are those things? For those of you with tiny one and two year olds who are the oldest child in the family, you are MODELING those house rules for them more than just saying words and expecting them to obey your words.
8. For those children who are a bit older and have a steady stream of complaints, you have a right to not hear all of it! Sometimes we are just “full”, we have heard them and we will carry their feelings with us but now it is time to peel the carrots, etc. See if you can involve them in physical work with their hands! I have also moved on into repetitive chores and told my kids they could draw it or go outside and tell the trees or tell the dog, but I was full for the moment. (PS, and to get your children to do this on their own, you may have to model it for them when YOU are angry! LOL). I tell them I will be ready to discuss it again after “X” but not right now.
9. Listening is the best cure. Judging doesn’t help; most at likely you don’t know the little one was torturing the bigger child (or vice versa) up until this incident happened. With the children closer to nine, take up a pencil and write all the complaints down and read it back to them. Don’t judge it, just read it back. Sometimes they just want to be sure you heard them.
10. Check out what kind of language or name-calling goes on in your house. I have seen husbands and wives call each other some pretty nasty things when they were upset. There should be a rule of being polite across the board, and when someone is angry, that person needs to chill out before we can even discuss the problem. Discussing things in the heat of anger rarely, if ever, solves anything, because no one can be calm or rational or discuss anything. So see how you and your husband handle being irritated and angry.
11. Are you comparing your children? Again, not helpful and often leads to incredible resentment. With older children, you can describe what you see. With younger children, stop using so many words. You also describe what you think the child would be feeling, such as “You must be proud of the picture you drew!” for the older child.
12. Fair and equal can be very, very important. Try to stress what the individual child needs. “So you are hungry and would like more?” in response to the wailing of “He got two more apples slices than me!!”
13. Stop labeling. Those of you with only two children, please erase the “big boy” or “big girl” and “baby” terms. Children move forward, regress and run the gamut in between. Accept where they are….
I am sure I will think of more to say later; but that is not a bad start.