How’s your summer going? Warm weather, lazy days, and popsicles? Or is it more like, “It’s my turn!” “Give it back!” “Let me have it!” “STOP IT!” “MOOOOMMMM!”
With kids and parents spending more time together, sibling fights can be another hallmark of summer. The petty arguments over nothing important can drive parents bonkers. The quick solution these days is a pair of earphones and an electronic device. Unfortunately, this effective solution robs kids of the benefits of bickering.
Try putting the earphones on yourself and let your kids learn some great life lessons in some really annoying ways.
Teasing offers kids a way to probe the boundaries of a relationship and address power issues. They value the attention they get from their sibling, which creates motivation not to push too far. The ability to be silly, laugh, and not take ourselves too seriously is super helpful in all close relationships. We want our kids to be funny, but not mean, this is how they learn it.
Rough & Tumble play is a valuable part of growing up. Just like with puppies, wrestling established dominance, boundaries and gets out energy. It teaches kids to stand up for themselves and use body language and voice tone to communicate their wishes. Even if the wrestling ends in tears and time outs, it can still teach empathy, cultural norms, and how to apologize and make amends. In fact, research shows wrestling and time in nature are the best remedies for ADHD.
Did you know arguing and bickering is a form of play? Otherwise known as “verbal jousting”, siblings are having fun! They are also learning to be okay with conflict, get along with others and solve problems. Watch your kids next time they argue, could they leave the room but choose to stay? Could it be they are enjoying the fight, learning how to win and lose gracefully? Are they learning that life isn’t always fair but there is more than one way to get what you want?
The more your children upset each other, the more opportunity they have to learn how their actions affect others emotionally. They learn to regulate their emotions and develop self-control. Learning to play this way helps kids create healthy friendships and intimate relationships later in life.
Once you take the earphones off, there are a few things you can do to be sure they learn good lessons, not bad ones.
1. Don’t pigeon hole your kids. “Sheri is the nice one, Jack is the bully, Kyle is the drama king.” Kids pick up on those labels and live up to them. Praise them for what you WANT to see. If you want to see empathy, compliment them for it. “I saw that you wanted to keep fighting but you heard the frustration in her voice and hesitated, that was so nice to see.”
2. While wrestling is good, violence isn’t. If your child appears nervous, withdrawn or afraid, end the game and protect your kid.
3. Establish house rules and post them for the whole family. (In this home, there will not be name-calling or hitting. In this home we tell the truth and apologize. In this home we respect furniture, belongings, and each other.) Clear and firm, with predictable consequences.
4. Observe your children. If one wants to interact and the other doesn’t, support them both equally.
TV, cell phones and video games keep us from feeling our feelings which leads to disconnection and depression. Emotions can’t kill you but suppressing them can. Allow yourselves your full range of emotions so you can feel fully human and alive. And if you just can’t stand it, sing show tunes really loud. Barney songs work, too. How do you cope with bickering kids?