Thanks to Covid-19, most of us have been spending more time at home than ever before. I’m a mom to three girls, and if your house is anything like mine has been lately, you’ve also added “Professional Referee” to the top of your parent-job description.
My girls will fight over anything. Whose popsicle wrapper was left on the counter. Whose getting more screentime. Who the baby loves more. And my personal favorite, who gets the “good spot” on the couch. (Although, in their defense, the “good spot” is really, really good.)
My girls are currently 11 (Lilah), 7 (Esmae), and 2 (Sailor). And they’re all completely different from one another.
Lilah was the perfect baby. Slept like a champ. Ate like a champ. Smiled and performed on cue. And honestly, not much has changed.
Then came Ezzy. She quickly showed me that I wasn’t the reason Lilah was such a good baby. Ezzy’s the most charming human being you’ll ever meet. Loving. Empathetic. Great sense of humor. And so, so kind. But homegirl is NEEDY. And she is highly, highly sensitive (Those last two are definitely from my gene pool – sorry, Ezzy!).
You know how you can look at your kid and say … “Hm. You’re gonna be a wild card.” That’s Say Say. She basically rules the house with a flick of her fat finger. She’s very serious, doesn’t warm up to people quickly, and is far more advanced in skills and vocabulary than my other girls were at her age. She’s also the single most stubborn human being on the planet. (Trust me on this.)
So I’ve got:
• Happy-go-lucky, independent
• Silly, charming clinger
• Super serious and stubborn
There’s a lot of personality dynamics at work every minute of every day.
Obviously, everyone is obsessed with Queen Sailor, but there will come a day when I’ll have to navigate her relationship with her sisters, too. But right now, Lilah and Ezzy are wearing out my referee uniform. They’re just close enough in age to have a lot in common, and just far enough away in age to make their needs, boundaries, and lifestyles very different.
It makes disciplining SO MUCH FUN AND SUPER EASY TO FIGURE OUT.
So, what’s the answer? How do we help our kids get along?
First, you have to redefine “getting along.”
I’m not particularly close with my sister, so I had heaven-high hopes that my girls would be different. That they’d want to dress alike, play together, share secrets, giggles, and hugs. Oh, and there’d be beautiful butterflies in the background of the majestic scene of their mutual adoration.
So, as you might imagine, that has not exactly been the case. (Welcome to parenting, right?)
They argue. All. The.Time.
Growing up, my mom would tell my siblings and I to go out in the front yard if we were arguing. She’d say, “I don’t care if you bloody each-others’ noses, but you’re not fighting in my peaceful house.”
Now, I’m not saying we should tell our kids to work it out Fight Club-style, but my mom understood something important —siblings are going to fight. They’re going to be petty at times. They’re going to assume the other one is getting something/more than what they’re getting.
So first, we (I) have to let go of any expectations that our kids are going to be storybook-best friends every minute of the day.
Send them outside.
Sometimes, our kids need to work it out themselves. (Again, we should probably discourage physical violence.)
Recently, I’ve been sending the older girls to the back porch. I’ll say, “Go sit on the back porch and work this out yourselves. You have ten minutes.”
Our kids need to develop healthy conflict/resolution skills, and disagreements with siblings is one of their first opportunities to do that.
Catch them doing it right.
The once-in-a-while that my girls are actually getting along well and showing each other kindness, I recognize it.
“I love that you guys are hanging out right now. It makes my heart happy.”
“Hey, thanks for being so kind to each other today. I’m so proud of you.”
“You know what? Since y’all are getting along so well, let’s go grab some ice cream. I want to celebrate.”
Encourage respect between conflict.
This one’s been the biggest game-changer. Their dad and I are divorced, but we have a great co-parenting relationship. I have to give him some credit here, because he came up with some phrases to say to our girls every day – even when there’s been no conflict. We usually do this at night before bed and on the way to school in the morning.
We ask: “What’s a sister?”
They answer: “A best friend for free.”
We ask: “Why do people matter?”
They answer: “Because they’re people.”
We ask: “How do we treat people?”
They answer: “With kindness and respect.”
We ask: “Where does that start?”
They answer: “It starts at home.”
About a year ago, I wrote a family mantra that we repeat most days.
“We are a family, no matter what. We will cheer for and defend each other, no matter what.”
It probably sounds silly. And your kids will definitely be annoyed by it at first and from time-to-time. But words have power. We come back to words we’ve memorized in moments of vulnerability, and I want these words to be the ones lingering in their little minds now and in the future.
We would love to hear how you handle sibling conflict! Drop an idea in our comments section below.