My previous post was about how to minimize sibling rivalry. If you missed it, check it out before reading this post by clicking here.
This week I want to elaborate on the third step - Teaching the WHY.
What I mean is WHY the kids fought, and how they can choose differently in the future.
This system that I have developed is a GAME CHANGER.
Instead of your kids developing bitterness, resentment, and blame for each other, you can use this method to help them draw closer together. This method helps them foster love. (Yes, even after they fought hard!)
Here it is in a nutshell...
When kids fight, seek to help them understand 5 things:
What they did wrong
Why they reacted that way
What they really believe
What they could have done instead
How they can make it right
I’ll use the example of child A taking child B’s toy, and child B hitting child A.
Step 1: Help them understand what they did wrong
If Child A took their toy, and Child B hit them back, I’ll call Child B over to me and have a conversation about what happened.
Yes, you read that right, I often start with the child who did NOT start it.
If I can talk to both, I will, but if tempers are high, I will start with the one who is the most angry. (That is usually the one who reacted last.)
Usually the child wants to tell me what the other person did. But here’s the thing: I don’t really care what the other kid did. I mean I do, but not for the purpose of teaching the child in front of me.
If they think that the other person doing something wrong justifies their own behavior, they will never learn self control.
So I seek to help them see what THEY did that was wrong.
Please notice this point! Too often when kids fight, they begin pleading their case to the adults around them, hoping that the adults will pass judgement in their favor.
This causes rivalry among siblings.
I do not want to pit my children against each other. I am not a judge. It is not my job to decide who was right and who was wrong.
Magic happens when I leave blame out of it and help each child focus on what THEY did and what they are capable of.
So I will ask them questions such as:
Are we supposed to hit people when they take our toy? Is that what you have been taught? Do you think hitting is the right thing to do? Do you want to live in a world where people hit each other? Is that how you want to handle conflict in our family?
I want them to see that hitting is still wrong, even if someone takes something we had.
If they can see that what they did was wrong, then they are ready for step 2.
Step 2: Help them understand why they reacted that way
Once they understand that what they did was wrong, I want to ask them why they did it.
So I’ll ask them, “Why did you hit your brother?”
They will usually say it is because of the other person’s behavior, but I know that is NOT the reason.
Everything anyone does is because of what they are feeling.
If a child was hitting, they were doing so because they were feeling a negative emotion such as anger. If they were feeling happy, they wouldn't have hit.
Feelings come from thoughts. They were likely feeling angry because they were thinking something about their sibling such as:
They shouldn’t take my toy.
It’s not their turn.
They have to ask me.
This isn’t fair.
They are so mean.
I seek to show them that they hit their sibling because they were feeling angry, and they were angry because of what they were thinking.
So when they tell me that they hit their brother because they took their toy, I ask them questions such as:
Why didn’t you thank them? Why didn’t you get excited and happy for them and give them more toys? Was there another option besides hitting?
Swinging to extreme opposite reaction scenarios shows them that they did have a choice... and they usually laugh because they are outrageous.
I ask them questions until they reveal what they were thinking that caused them to feel angry.
It is usually something like: “he shouldn’t do that”, or “it wasn’t fair”, or “he was being mean.”
Once I find the thought that caused anger, I teach them that they hit because they were angry, and they were angry because they were thinking whatever their thought was. “He is so mean.” etc.
I'll explain how of course they hit their brother, they were angry, and it was because they thought "he is so mean".
This helps separate them from the behavior. I want them to know that they are a good kid, but when good kids feel angry, they often do unkind things.
It makes total sense.
My nonchalant explanation and non-reaction helps them see that they are not their actions. Then I move to step 3.
Step 3: Help them understand what they really believe
This is where I take their thought that caused anger, and question it. Do they really believe it?
Is your brother actually mean, or did he just make a mistake?
Is your brother supposed to never make a mistake?
Are humans always kind?
Are things supposed to always be fair?
How could we make it so your brother never takes your toy without asking nicely?
(The answer: we can’t. Even if I teach him and we practice, he will still make mistakes sometimes.)
Do you make mistakes? (yes)
You know that hitting is wrong, but you still hit him? Why? (because you were angry)
Why do you think he took your toy?
Was he feeling amazing? (likely no)
This conversation is where I teach them that people do wrong when they don’t feel good. It is easy to do good when we feel good. It is hard to do right when we feel bad.
I explore how their sibling may have felt and why they did what they did. Being compassionate and empathetic is a huge part of minimizing sibling rivalry in the future.
Compassion and empathy come from thoughts such as:
Humans aren't supposed to be perfect.
We all make mistakes.
Mistakes are how we learn.
Nothing has gone wrong.
This is how my brother learns.
He is doing the best he can.
I love him.
I am glad that he is my brother.
Once they can see that what they really believe is something different than "he is so mean" they are ready for step 4.
Step 4: Help them understand what they could have done instead
This is where you help them see their own power.
Their sibling can take their toy without asking, and even angrily, and they can still be kind.
By believing the new thoughts.
So I walk through it with them.
I describe exactly what the other child did, and then remind them of what they really believe.
"If you were thinking that your brother is supposed to make mistakes sometimes. It’s actually how he learns. He must not be feeling good to react the way he did. You love him, and it’s all going to be ok. What would you feel?"
(It’s usually love. But sometimes compassion, peace, calm, or kind.)
"If you felt love, what would you do? What would be different from the feeling of love, not anger?"
EVERYTHING is the answer.
Once they can see it, they have all the power again. They are no longer a victim to other people doing wrong.
This is why I say that I don’t care what the other person did in step 1. It doesn’t matter.
Other people are allowed to do wrong, and each of us can still do right.
I often illustrate this by showing what I could do as their mother:
“Remember when things were different, and you would fight with your brother, and I would yell at everyone, get mad, and start freaking out? That is because I thought you guys shouldn’t fight. But you WERE fighting, so then I was mad. And when I’m mad, I freak out. Just like you were right now when you thought that your brother shouldn’t take your toy. When I thought you guys shouldn’t do wrong in the past, I felt angry, and then I did wrong. NOW I know that it’s ok for you guys to fight. It’s how you learn. You were fighting because you were feeling angry, and you were angry because you thought your brother shouldn’t take your toy without asking. So of course you were going to hit him when you felt angry. It’s ok, we just want to learn from this. So I don’t need to feel angry anymore, and yell at you. I can feel love, and stay calm, and teach you. I am feeling love because I think that it is ok for you to make a mistake. It is just my job to teach you. You can do that for your brother too. He could take your toy, and you could think “It’s ok, he is learning. I love him.” And then you would feel love, and instead of hitting, you would teach him, ask him to give it back, maybe give him turn, who knows? Everything would be different from love.”
They know what kind of reaction I used to have when I thought they shouldn’t fight, so this example works well in our home.
Step 5: Help them understand how they can make it right
At this point, I don’t feel the need to give consequences usually.
If the child has really had the mental shift to what they could have done instead, they usually feel sorry and sad about what happened.
So I ask them, “what do you think you need to do to make this right?”
Because they have already had a powerful shift through the previous 4 steps, they usually want to apologize and ask for forgiveness. I also offer options that might help including:
Ask what you can do
I’ll go into these steps in detail next week, so stay tuned!
One final note: this process might seem long, and I’m not going to sugar coat it - it does take time. But what I have found is that when I take the time to resolve fights and teach individual power and responsibility, the need for me to mediate starts being reduced drastically and immediately. Sibling conflicts are more rare, and easily solved once this method is used.
Teaching personal responsibility for our emotions and actions is one of the most important lessons I am teaching my kids.
I want them to know that they have all the power.
I show them by keeping my power.
I don't need to freak out when they have conflict.
I choose to show up, teach, and love them.
Because even when kids fight, nothing has gone wrong.
Remember that this week when the conflicts start.
You've got this.
If you have a question about sibling rivalry, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to hear what is working and not working for you.