It’s a great pleasure to welcome Sumitha Bhandarkar here today, the creator of afineparent.com. Sumitha created the fantastic infographic below, based on Dr Laura Markham’s new book, Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings, and joins us to share some thoughts about raising loving siblings. Welcome, Sumitha!
“Having one child makes you a parent; having two, you are a referee.” -David Frost
If you have more than one child, I’m willing to bet good money that your reaction to the quote above is either (a) fierce agreement or (b) frustrated resignation. Probably both.
So, you’d have to agree – it would definitely make parenting easier if you could just stop having to be a referee all the time and your kids just handled their issues by themselves, amicably and without anyone getting hurt. Don’t you think?
According to the new book “Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings” by Dr. Laura Markham, this is definitely a goal that most parents can achieve.
Contrary to traditional wisdom however, it is not just a matter of “leave them alone and they will eventually figure it out”. Research cited in the book shows that the reason why the age-old approach seems to work is that eventually the stronger of the kids gets away with what he wants, while the weaker one(s) uneasily makes peace with the idea of being helpless and never being able to win.
And that’s not a healthy dynamic.
Definitely not something I would intentionally foster in my house. I’m guessing you neither?
Now on the other hand, if we parents can guide our children to resolve their conflicts in fair, amicable ways, then we could rest back and relax as we watch them sort things out into win-win solutions.
At the core of all successful conflict resolution techniques lies one simple fact – mutual respect. And in a family setting, especially with kids who have to share a lot – from the attention of their parents to toys – unshakeable love for each other is as important.
So let’s look at a few simple things we can do to weave that into our family and the way kids relate to each other.
#1 Make your home a blame-free environment
When there are Legos everywhere underfoot and kids are squabbling about whose responsibility it is to clean up, it is easy to get sucked in and try to get to the bottom of who spilled all those Legos in the first place.
But seriously, does it matter?
The goal is to have a clean room. So keep the eye on the ball. State clearly that Legos belong to everyone, and everyone is responsible for cleaning it up. Get down on your knees and start putting it away to model the behavior you want to encourage and gently rope in the kids to help with the cleanup.
A blame-free environment where everyone is united and helps each other with their responsibilities is a beautiful place indeed.
#2 Make your home a shame-free environment
Remember the time when you were little and you stole your sister’s eraser because it was so very cute and you just wanted it, and then somehow it seemed like a good idea to bite it and before you know it, it was totally destroyed.
Wait, was that just me? Oops.
But, it’s OK. I’m sure you have your own stories.
The point I’m trying to make is, as kids, some ideas which are just wrong, seem good in the moment.
Most of us parents, in the interest of teaching kids to behave better insist on apologies.
Kids are not dumb though. At some level, when the moment passes, they know they’ve made a mistake. And they feel bad. And a little ashamed. Forcing to apologize, simply makes that shame more concrete.
And shame is an insidious paralytic that does not help anyone.
Instead, focus on repair.
Make it clear to the child that yes, she did make a poor choice, and destroyed her sister’s best eraser. But we are a loving family and we understand that everyone makes mistakes. What can she do now to make her sister feel better (and also, forgive herself)? She may choose to apologize, give a hug, make a card or do her sister’s chores for the rest of the day. As long as the repair works for both parties, it’s all good.
When you have kids who forgive each other, and themselves, and move on from conflicts with closure instead of grudges, parenting suddenly becomes a whole lot easier.
#3 Make your home an inclusive environment
Your son may have your eyes. Your daughter may have your husband’s nose. And yes, the little one, definitely has your father-in-law’s chin and your mother-in-law’s “unique” sense of humor.
But at the end of the day, they are individuals. They are their own persons. With their own strengths and weaknesses.
The single best thing we can do for our kids is to give them the freedom to explore that individuality. And if that takes them away from what is considered the norm in the family, then at the least, acknowledge it with respect and at best, celebrate it.
When we raise kids to be comfortable in their own selves, there is no need for them to compete with their siblings to prove themselves worthy of our love and attention every chance they get.
Conflicts have a way of fizzling out even before they start to bubble up. Issues get sorted out as quickly as they are noticed. And peace in the family is as much a reality as the sun rising tomorrow.
Now, does all this mean that there will never be any sibling rivalry in your family? Heck, no. Where’s the fun in that?
Sibling rivalry is a part of life. Conflicts between siblings will arise not matter how you parent. The difference is, when you raise kids who love and respect each other, sibling rivalry is not a knife that ruthlessly breaks the relationship, but rather a fire at which the sibling bonds are strengthened.
Here is a beautifully illustrated infographic that shares a few more ideas about how to effectively deal with sibling rivalry based on Dr. Laura’s book. I hope it gives you many more ideas about whether you should interfere or not when conflicts arise, and what exactly you can do to gently guide your kids towards finding win-win solutions.
Sumitha Bhandarkar is the creator of afineparent.com, a community for parents who believe that great parents are made, not born. If one of your life goals is to be a better person and a better parent, she invites you to join her and the A Fine Parent community in their slow and steady quest for personal and parenting excellence.
#7: How to help siblings love and respect each other