Success with Siblings: Parenting Conference Takeaways

I mentioned I just went to the Parent Child Preschools Organization’s conference Building Lifelong Learners, so now I’m an expert on everything.

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.

The Dynamic Duo spreads more chaos. Momsicle Blog

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!

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8 responses to “Success with Siblings: Parenting Conference Takeaways

  1. The narrate what you see thing is SO HARD. But it SO WORKS too. (This is a technique I learned from “How to talk so kids will listen and listen so kids will talk” by Elaine Farber and somebody else [whose name I can’t remember right now].) I am also liking the advice about letting them work things out on their own. Of course I don’t actually have siblings around for my little one yet, but this sounds like a ‘less is more’ strategy and I can definitely get behind anything that means momma does less work. 😀

    Thanks for sharing! I hope this conference makes life a little bit easier for you in the short term as well as the long term. xoxo

    • Thanks for your thoughts, Ali, and the rec for Elaine Farber’s book. I think she has a siblings one too, which I picked up and got some ideas from a while back. The hardest part for us has been dealing with two little people who are really not ready to work things out or find solutions on their own. Right now it’s often more about keeping them safe. So I loved that this session was geared particularly for our kids’ age group! xoxo!! 🙂 And you are TOTALLY right about narrating the situation with preschoolers–so helpful and so hard to always do.

  2. I love the comments about fostering good play together and not too many toys. I’ve noticed that my kids play really well together with the blocks, duplo and balls which agrees with this theory. One thing I do have to watch myself on though (and you touch on it here) is not expecting my oldest to always be the one that has to take the higher ground even when her younger brother knocked over her tower. Really, that’s expecting maturity from a three year old that some adults haven’t mastered.

    • Amen! I find myself quickly getting on K-Pants, when often it’s Baby who started the issue. It’s really hard for me not to do that, especially when we’re in a rush or I’m in a bad mood.

  3. I totally, totally agree on the pack away the toys. I think 50-75% of our toys are in boxes. It’s what keeps me sane. The kids actually play better when there is less to choose from. They can see what’s there, instead of it being a big mess. Also, having a place for everything is handy. My son actually will clean up or help clean up because he knows where things go and it’s not an overwhelming amount if stuff (although sometimes he claims it is to get out of cleaning up!).

    • So great to hear that the “less stuff” idea is working for you guys. We need to grab some boxes and get going. I’m so tired of moderating whose thing is whose. Turn-taking is important, but they definitely seem to play better when they are running and chasing rather than fighting over trucks.

      • (BTW, this is the other Evelyn. Hi!) I have also gotten the oldest child in on the packing toys away – he knows where they are and he knows that he can trade something if he wants. I do wish it were better organized (it’s all just piled on the floor of the closet), but hey, you can’t have everything. 😉

  4. Pingback: Holiday Gifts That Build Experiences & Strengthen Values | momsicle

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