“Let us keep reminding each other to breathe, to smile, to treat ourselves and one another with kindness.” – Denise Roy
I am one of two siblings; the youngest of a small, quiet family. As such, my childhood fantasies of my future family involved three children, their spouses and children, all filling up a festive, loving home, while the snow fell picturesquely outside our home (I also grew up in South Florida without snow…). I wanted a large family to fill our house with laughter, to provide friendship in times of plenty and support in times of want. I dreamt that my children would have strong, loving connections that they could rely on throughout their lives.
My dream family began when my daughter was born, and continued to grow when my son was born two-and-a-half-years-later.
But then fighting began.
I have read that things that trigger you come from unresolved issues in childhood, so somewhere in my psyche there must be some unresolved issues around sibling fighting. Or perhaps, it is simply that I, like many other parents, am easily frustrated by the broken peace and intentional irritants that are thrown back and forth between my children. Whatever it is, my dream of loving, supportive siblings is not my family’s current reality and I have decided that the change has to start with me.
If I want a peaceful, loving family, I need to build a peaceful, loving family culture. And so this month’s Conscious Parenting Inspiration touches on consciously addressing sibling issues, ways to begin choosing conscious responses, and ways to reconnect when we don’t act as loving as we’d like to.
Consciously Addressing Sibling Issues
Sibling issues – fighting, rivalry, general discord – have been featured a lot in my blog feeds and newsletters lately and what keeps coming up is the importance, not of just stopping the fighting, but of helping siblings work through conflict and creating an environment of peace.
My go-to advice for sibling issues is Dr. Laura of Aha! Parenting, who is awash with advice on sibling issues from her recent book Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings. In her post 21 Tips to Prevent Sibling Flighting, she provides information on valuable parenting tools from proactive steps like creating an intentional family culture; bringing awareness to how you talk to, and about, your children; and providing lots of one-on-one time (when possible); to tools to use after conflict has occurred, such as empathizing, modelling emotional intelligence and involving kids in conflict resolution. While Dr. Laura’s step-by-step conversations may not be practical for every family, or every situation, I’ve found that using the underlying wisdom – approaching the conflict without judgement, giving each child a chance to feel heard and involving them in resolving the conflict – in a more abbreviated form, has worked for us.
The bloggers over at A Fine Parent has put together a really helpful Sibling Rivalry infographic based on Dr. Layra’s new book and are currently offering a free printable download.
For more inspiration, Dr. Laura is currently on a virtual Happy Siblings Blog Tour in which she talks with, and shares the resources, of other great parenting professionals and bloggers.
Choosing a Conscious Response
Given the amount of advice available for parents on how to best address sibling issues, it seems safe to say that many parents of multiple children struggle with responding positively and effectively in such situations. In her post on the Empowering Parents blog, author and licensed mental health counselor Debbie Pincus describes why parents often feel powerlessness (which can lead to anger) when interacting with their children.
She explains that, when triggered, many parents believe that the only way to calm themselves is to “get their children to behave the way they want them to.” She goes on to explain that in thinking this way, parents put the power to calm themselves in the hands of their children. She says that when parents begin statements with the phrase, “I need you to…,” as in, “I need you to stop bothering your sister. I need you to speak kindly. I need you to be more respectful,” the implicit message is, “I need you to calm me, validate me, reassure me because I don’t know what to do.”
Debbie then talks about the following the feedback loop that often results from unconscious reactions:
Child/Children are “Acting Out” ——-> Parent Feels Overwhelmed and Powerless ——> Sense of Powerlessness Leads to Anxiety —–> Parent Attempts to Control Children in an Attempt to Regain Sense of Power and Calm ——-> Children Fight Back Against Attempts to Control Them (“Act Out”) ——> Parent Feels Overwhelmed and Powerless
Debbie explains that in these situations, both parent and children are reacting from a place of anxiety, rather than responding from a place of calm. And this loop often happens faster than it took you to read about it, leaving parents wondering how things got so bad so fast.
In her post, The 5 Main Tenets of Mindful Parenting, mindfulness educator Lisa Kring privdes describes how the use of the acronym, S.T.O.P, as a conscious reminder can help parents break this loop by changing a reaction to a response in tense moments:
S – STOP
Whenever you notice stress or imbalance, simply pause in awareness.
T – TAKE A BREATH
Bring your awareness to your breath.
O – OBSERVE
Internally – observe how the breath begins to calm your nerves. Externally – observe what is really happening, in the moment.
P – PROCEED
Having shifted to a more mindfully responsive mode, respond in a thoughtful way to the situation, even if it means explaining that you need a break to calm yourself and returning to address the situation at a later time.
In her post, On the Hard Days, Remember, the author provides beautifully describes her habit of intentionally focusing on positive memories from the past, using the mantra “Remember,” to bring more clarity and perspective to stressful situations.
In her post, 4 Mommy Mantras for Being a More Mindful Parent, Stephanie Morgan of Modern Parents, Messy Kids, explains that remembering the quote, “Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory,” by Dr. Seuss, helps her to remember that how we act as parents will become our children’s memories, for better or for worse, as inspiration to choose more conscious responses.
As we are all human, we will never respond to our children intentionally and lovingly 100% of the time. Many of us, myself included, might be happy if we are able to respond intentionally and lovingly even 50% of the time. But even when we find ourselves reacting, it is still possible to parent consciously, after the fact.
In her post, Five Ways to Reconnect with Your Child When You are Having a Bad Day, Dr. Laura of Aha! Parenting provides five strategies to reconnect by helping them feel safe, clarifying your opposing needs, physically reconnecting, playing and empathizing with their feelings.
In her post on Positive Parenting Connection, The Most Important Question to Ask After Yelling, Dr Andra Brill, founder of Mindful Happy Families, describes the importance of having a ritual to reconnect after you lose your temper with your children. She shares her family’s question, “What do you need?” which helps her to get to the root of the problems in order to avoid stressful situations in the future and helps family members feel heard and participate in the problem solving.
What about you? Have you found anything new that works for your family this month or come across any Conscious Parenting Resources to share? If so, I’d love to hear from you!
Thanks for Reading!
Sharon, Author, The Conscious Parenting Notebook