From Thanksgiving until the New Year families tend to spend a lot of time together. Children are home from school for days and weeks, emotions run high and sometimes everyone is stuck in the house because of inclement weather. What does this tend to mean for siblings? Bickering, shouting, hurling insults, tears and slammed doors.
It’s no wonder sibling fighting is a common cause of parenting annoyance and frustration, especially at this time of year.
But what to do about it?
Many parents believe it is their duty to settle disagreements and protect the innocent. Other parents believe it is best to stay out of sibling conflicts altogether.
We maintain the ideal approach is somewhere in between. The key is to know when to intervene and when not to. Children need coaching in how to resolve conflicts in a healthy way. It is part of the job of a calm and healing parent to model and teach children communication and problem-solving skills.
However, it is not helpful to continually settle disagreements for children. Intervening might stop fighting temporarily, but it does not teach siblings how to resolve conflicts themselves. Give them the support, guidance and skills — and the opportunities to implement those skills.
It is also important to recognize that sibling conflict is often for the benefit of the parent. Yes, that’s right: Through conflict, children are often trying to gain a parent’s attention and/or maintain power and emotional distance. Parents need to be aware of that motive and to engage it constructively rather than to engage sibling conflicts in ways that can reinforce the roles of “the good child” and “the bad child” in the family. Children can get stuck in these roles — and also in their corresponding behaviors.
The 10 Cs
Of course, there are times when a parent must intervene to keep a child safe. If a child is abusive and harming a sibling, that child should lose the privilege of playing with the other sibling until he or she can act appropriately. These times are wonderful opportunities for parents to step in to teach communication and problem-solving skills using the 10 Cs of parenting. They are:
Connection: Connecting with children involves empathy, support, nurturance, structure and love. Parents who successfully connect with their children are emotionally available, actively involved in their lives, and model respect and compassion.
Calm: To be calm is synonymous with being levelheaded, peaceful, patient and composed. The only effective way to positively influence children is to gain their trust, and a calm and consistent approach works best.
Commitment: Commitment is a promise and a pledge to be available to a child through thick and thin; a moral obligation to take certain actions and respond in certain ways, which leads to safety, security, and trust.
Consistency: All children need consistent nurturance and stability, as a supportive framework to guide, organize, and regulate their behavior. Children who have endured adverse conditions need even more.
Communication: To communicate is to connect. There is no greater gift to children than to be attuned; they see it in their parents’ eyes and hear it in their tone of voice. Parental sensitivity to the child’s signals is the essence of secure attachment.
Choices and Consequences: One of the most important jobs as a parent is to prepare children to function in the real world. To accomplish this, children must learn to live with the consequences of their choices and actions. This leads to the development of responsibility, accountability, and maturity.
Confidence: Confidence is the ability to rely on yourself with assuredness and certainty. Confident parents have trust in what they are doing to help their children. Children feel safe with confident parents who they see as capable and dependable.
Cooperation: Children need opportunities to learn about the give and take of relationships, including cooperation, empathy, and reciprocity. Parents who are resonant in their attitude and delivery are more likely to have children who are motivated to cooperate. Resonant parents are attuned to the feelings, needs, and mindsets of their children.
Creativity: Creativity is the “language of childhood.” An important aspect of creativity is humor. Laughter is the best medicine; it reduces stress, creates positive connections, and gives a new perspective on one’s situation. Laughing with, not at, a child increases emotional bonding and interrupts negative patterns of relating.
Coaching: A coach is a mentor who guides, teaches, supports, motivates, and inspires positive values and characteristics in children. Parents are role models and coaches and set an example of who to be and how to behave. Children learn more from modeling than by any other way. A good coach not only imparts knowledge, but also facilitates the attainment of wisdom.