I went grudgingly, but my stepmom had suggested it and when I looked at the offerings, I had to admit I needed what they had to offer: More strategies for parenting gremlins.
My favorite session was about siblings. I have these two little people in my house. I want them to be friends. They spend most of their time knocking each other over, pulling hair, hitting, and throwing things.
I need help.
Lynn Collins, PhD, who is a mother and teaches parenting classes at the Marylhurst School taught the class. Here were my big takeaways:
- Focus on creating opportunities for siblings to connect positively, rather than just focusing on conflict resolution. Your kids don’t need to be friends, but they do need to have a positive relationship. Think about what you can do to foster and help your kids enjoy each other. Successful activities may include:
- Building forts
- Make believe play
- Physical play: Dancing, playing chase, wrestling (with boundaries)
- Arguing and fighting doesn’t mean kids can’t build positive relationships: They have to constantly practice emotional intimacy with their sibling and it’s hard because they often have very different personalities.
- Don’t foster competition between siblings (i.e., “Who can get to the car the quickest?”), because someone’s always the loser. Instead, make them on the same team (kids v. parent), or everyone’s on the family team trying to beat the family record.
- The fewer toys you have, the better siblings get along. This was a shocker for me, but makes sense. Particularly with toys that have only one user at a time (electronic toys, often), kids fight for the right to have it and don’t play together. Also, most of their fights are about possessions: who has what. Lynn suggested packing up of 75% of your toys–Whoa! But we’re going to try packing up some. The best toys to keep around are ones that foster creative and pretend play, allow kids to build or construct things, or allow them to play together in open spaces (like balls and sports equipment).
- In a conflict situation, it doesn’t really matter what happened, it’s just about fixing what’s happening now. Often we’ll yell at the older kid, because the little one is crying. But it might be that the older child was playing nicely and the baby swiped his toy. Then the older child offered a trade to get the toy back, but when the baby refused, he whacked him. Sound familiar? Anyhow…
- In a problem, start by narrating what you see, and include emotions: “I see your towers are knocked over. I see you’re really upset because Baby knocked down your tower. Come here, do you need a hug to feel better and then we can talk?” Then deal with the problem solving: “What should Baby do when he’s done playing instead of hitting?”
- Always make amends. If a child is too worked up or embarrassed to make amends (say sorry, ask if someone’s okay, provide a different toy, etc.), then delay it. But make sure it happens.
- Only intervene to keep kids safe or when family rules are being broken. In other situations, let them be. Siblings will often fight 4-5 times an hour, and you can’t be there every time.
- When fighting over possessions, the possession always goes to an adult, then problem solving starts. (“I see this toy is causing some problems, so it needs to go away. Please give it to me.”)
I would LOVE to hear what resonates with you. And your thoughts on what works for you in building positive relationships between your kids, and working out problems between them, too. I know we’re just at the beginning of the road, and we need to be armed for the long haul!