November 3rd 2012
Children are a wonder and heartache all at once. They daily have emotional wrestling matches with the fundamentals of life’s etiquettes. Sibling rivalry between brothers and sisters with their moments of joy and angst are as irrepressible as storms to spring. By nature both inevitably are destined to clash in thunder and lightning until there are daffodils. The circle of sibling seasons should have a natural flow that will better lay a foundation for all their life. How to find that happy little tire swing that they will remember when they are grown up takes planning, patience, wit and whimsy.
Example: Sister is blissfully playing with her dollhouse and brother puts his Ghost Buster action figure on the roof. “Get that off my house! She yells.
“Egon is saving them from Marshmallow Man.” He replies, hurt and offended that she won’t let him play. “Go away! It’s my dollhouse I can do whatever I want … MOM!” They both come running and surround me like an invasion of angry bees. I take a breath, pause and then speak, because this little bit of time that I take for myself, slows them down and subtly gives them a tool they can use in their own decision making.
It’s important to recognize a child’s personality at the time because the dynamics of the two of them together will decide the best avenue for encouraging ongoing dialogues. My daughter is independent, a director at heart, organized, passionate and always outspoken. My son is easy going, animated and compassionate. They are both singularly complete opposites in a situation. The daughter is the oldest too so this in itself lends a certain innate responsibility to manage their childhood while as my son just wants to be himself. He wants to play with her and truly feels that he can bring his own fun ideas to the table. She wants to play her way.
The conflict question is: How do I help them both get what they want? Playing together is important in raising well-rounded individuals who will grow up having the skills to creatively exercise effective democratic communication. It starts at birth. First child is the center of attention until the new kid in town arrives and then it can go one of two ways; my new little buddy or get out of town by sunset. This is an ongoing power struggle best realized early on so as not to be terribly shocked and over react when sister is pushing brother’s infant swing like an entry in Xtreme sports, or when brother chases his sister around the table threatening to clobber her with his plastic pirate sword. “Aarrrgh,” I say. “Come my little mateys to the sand pits we go.” A quick change up of tone with a little English accent can greatly improve a heated situation. Diversion works well. Alternative activities that you know will easily get them into their own play worlds is a masterful tool. Once outside brother prefers the sand box and sister would rather swing. A child will behave as well as they are treated. If the diversion tactic isn’t working here are three simple guidelines.
- Always speak to a child’s sense of higher reason, calmly stating the compromise so they can feel that it is born out of civility and fair play. Be clear. For example I suggested to them both. “How about if he puts his ghost buster house on the floor and becomes your neighbor next door? You can both play at the same time side by side.”
- Encourage proper conversation by repeating what they are saying to you in a controlled tone of voice even when everything they are saying is loud and whining of objections. “You mean put his stinky station next here? I don’t want it touching my doll house.” I cheerfully said, “Yes, he could put his ghost buster station next to yours but have enough yard space between the two of you to play in. You know like neighbors have their own yards to put their boats and cars on.” Drawing outside similar scenarios from the grown up world sets an example they can relate and aspire to. Every kid wants to be a big boy or girl.
- The louder you talk, the louder you will have to be the next time. Decide your level of volume and intensity early on and say it like a part in a play. This way your own emotional involvement will be less taxing on you in your children’s ongoing autonomy dramas.
- The key to fighting over toys is to put the toy up somewhere high, I liked the refrigerator. Tell them that they have to talk about how they want to play with “the thing” between themselves first. Emphasizing the thing, ie. the toy car, ball, or book as not belonging to anyone in particular. Portraying objects as belonging to no one reduces favoritism and puts it in perspective. The moment transforms from a who do you love more moment into a negotiating practice between the two of them. It becomes a ‘what to do’ dialogue rather than a “Mom loves you more.” If they are at a loss, flip a coin to decide who goes first. They find this game of chance fun. Help them decide how long each will play with it. Set a timer.
- Another consideration can be that there is more to this than just the fight over a toy. It can be there is something else going on. Maybe one isn’t feeling well, is hungry, over stimulated or tired. Try to pick up on this and let the child know. “Honey, you are tired. Go get a book and we will read for awhile.” “Sweetheart, let’s go make a snack.” “Come sit on my lap for awhile until you feel a little better, I think you might need a little rest.” Sometimes one or the other might truly need a little more attention because they are feeling left behind and invisible and it’s important to make them feel loved. Try as much as possible to have a family team attitude. “Why does he get to sit on your lap and I don’t?” One child might hurtfully object so tell them. “Because right now he is feeling bad and when he feels a little better I will hold you next. Besides you have important decorating you want to finish in your doll house.” A return to the original playtime idea reminds them of their initial goal that are happy to embrace again.
The human experience should be a place where all things in life are universally felt, recognized and respected. These challenges should offer rational choices. The practice of reason in the home should always establish fairness and not favoritism and opens the door to yours and your children’s own well being. Life doesn’t have to be a tug-of-war and a parent should emulate this resolve as much as possible. Tired of the fighting? Can’t take it anymore? Tell them. “I have heard enough of this bickering. If you can’t play nicely together, then go play by yourselves until you are ready to compromise and work it out together.”
Negotiating skills can be taught at a very early age and pretty soon they become second nature. My daughter and son to this day understand pretty well how the other is going to respond. In fact, they depend on this history of communication.
They now own and manage together the Brick Room Event Center and Kings Conway in Arkansas with their partner, Marcus Bobbit.
Recently I was in their office, observing the day to day duties. I sat there proudly as they negotiated with a client on the phone, outlined the priorities’ of the day with clarity and fairness to the well being of each other and the company.
Their childhood popped up in my mind with a string of turn key moments, sometimes fraught with tears and anger, but mostly elevated with the sheer love of having each other in their lives.
I drove home; south along the 130 mile stretch between us now reflecting back on these parenting days and once again was reminded of the guiding words of Gibran on children.
“Your Children are not your children
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you
And though they are with you yet they do not belong to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts,
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You might strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward not tarries with yesterday.