It recently occurred to me that with the number of posts I write about the rivalry between my children, it might be easy to conclude that the respectful parenting methods I have adopted to help manage their rivalry over the years have been completely ineffective, otherwise, why would they still rival?
Through days 9 and 10 of the RIE foundations course we examined the ins and outs of conflict. It was both a challenging and moving lesson for me to hear that how we feel about conflict and our experiences with it, are going to have a bearing on what we do in managing children in their conflict.
It is completely natural for parents to want their children to get along. Who wouldn’t want their children to be best friends and to look out for each other when we are not there to do so? Sibling relationships are unique and special. They are unlike any other relationship we will have in our lives; however, by its very nature it is not always going to be the idyllic vision we had hoped. Sibling Rivalry, is always going to play a prominent part of most childhoods.
Sibling squabbles are a common occurrence in our house as I am sure they are in many other’s. I have posted relatively frequently on this topic in the past. You can read some of these posts here (Could NOT Forcing Toddlers to Share Help With Sharing Conflicts?) and here (7 Things I Should Know About Helping My Children to Share) and here (Why I Allow My Children to Struggle Over Toys).
There is a common theme amongst my previous posts and that is that my eldest daughter (3.5 years) is quite often the one inflicting pain and misery on her younger sister (2.5 years).
I have learned better than to label my children as bullies or victims, however, and I work hard not to so much as even perceive either of my children in these roles. Doing away with the bully label was quite easy once I started viewing my eldest as a victim of her own unregulated impulses and strong emotions as well as recognising the difficulty she has always had in accepting her younger sister into the household. I have subsequently spent a great deal of time focused on helping her manage these emotions and ensuring she feels understood during her outbursts.
It has recently dawned on me, though, that my focus on this has limited my opportunities to help my youngest daughter develop the skills that could help her to stand up for herself during heated arguments and tussles. Continue reading
My daughters have always had a rather volatile relationship. Born just 13 months apart and with polar opposite personalities, they have often struggled living their daily lives in each other’s company particularly when it comes to sharing toys.
In the beginning it was quite easy to get caught in the trap of seeing my eldest, Lucy, as the aggressor in many of their altercations (because, in reality, she was), leaving my youngest, Penny, with no choice but to be considered the victim, always having to be rescued by us.
Over time, and after learning about RIE and reading many expert articles cautioning against not only using these labels for children but also against even perceiving one child as the victim and the other as the perpetrator, we changed how we considered the children’s roles in these struggles. I have previously written about the importance of this shift in mindset and for the most part we have managed to remain neutral umpires during our children’s scuffles.
As the girls have gotten older and wiser, we have been able to enjoy more and more beautiful moments watching them play harmoniously together for extended periods of time. However, with their developing age, significant physical strength has emerged from both of them. Their previously lop-sided battles for toys that used to end quite quickly with Lucy gaining possession of the hot items, were now becoming a much more even contest involving far more drawn-out struggles.
With the drama surrounding these struggles, it can be easy, as parents, to want it ended quickly to restore peace in the house. It is tempting to step in and break up the fight, putting the toy away or giving it to its original owner. We made the decision quite some time ago to allow our children to work through these struggles in their entirety, stepping in only to prevent physical hurt from ensuing.
Tonight, for example, Penny (my 2.5 year old) was initiating a game of hide and seek, crawling under a table and calling out, “You can’t find me!” Whilst under the table she discovered a bead maze that her older sister had left there hours earlier. She picked it up and began playing with it whilst I proceeded to ‘try’ to find her. Hearing a game in progress, Lucy came racing in excitedly and dove under the table only to find Penny with ‘her’ toy.
Hide and seek quickly became a duel between the two as each staked their claim on the maze and fought furiously to defend it. As I crouched under the table beside them, blocking their attempts to grab each other’s hands to prize them off or push each other over, and sportscasting the event, I admired their tenacity and found myself appreciating the courage, strength and determination each of them displayed in this volatile situation.
I could see how healthy this battle was for their strength and resilience in the following ways.
It was loud. To remain assertive in a situation where someone is screaming at you from just centimetres away takes bravery.
It was physical. Gripping an item tightly for an extended period of time whilst someone struggles against you, pushing, pulling and occasionally swiping at you takes immeasurable strength and determination.
It was emotional. Feeling these emotions and conquering them takes resilience and it is liberating and empowering for young children to know they can survive these emotions and come back stronger.
It was authentic. After what seemed an eternity (probably one minute), one of the girls emerged with the item, leaving the other devastated and flailing on the floor. A short time later, that same child had picked herself up, dusted herself off and moved confidently onto a new toy. To feel genuine loss and grieve that loss only to rise again, finding contentment in another toy soon after, empowers them to cope with other forms of hurt, loss and grief they may experience in the future.
As I have come to terms with my children expressing their emotions freely after practicing Magda Gerber’s RIE parenting for nearly two years, I now feel confident to allow my girls the time and space they need to come to their own natural conclusions in their fights for a particular hot item. I am realising that despite the trauma they seem to be going through at the time, they are actually learning so many valuable skills during these scuffles. My interference would only rob them of the chance to grow from these altercations.
Toddler Toy Battles- Interventions that Work (Podcast) ~ Janet Lansbury (Janet Lansbury- Elevating Childcare)
5 Reasons to Love Conflict ~ Emily Plank – Abundant Life Children
7 Things I Should Know About Helping my Children to Share (From my Toddler Coach) Kate Russell (Peaceful Parents, Confident Kids)
Sibling Rivalry has taken on a new meaning in our household over the past couple of months. Our children have both nominated themselves to compete in the Russell Household Olympics, competing in events such as Who is the fastest Dresser, Who Can Get to The Front Door First, Who Gets Strapped Into Their Car Seat First, Whose Milk is Poured Quickest, and Who is the Speediest Toilet Racer.
Yep, it doesn’t matter what it is, every aspect of our daily life has been turned into an Olympic event where the children genuinely feel as though they have worked their whole life leading up to that moment. It sounds great in theory, with the children moving in double time to complete tasks, we should never be late again nor lose our patience when the children take too long, but unfortunately the absolute devastation which ensues in the child that does not realise their dream of winning undermines the actual speediness of the event.
With my husband and I both being athletes and competing at high levels in Volleyball in the past, I guess it could be expected that my children would develop competitive streaks but gee whiz, we were never prepared for this. What confused us the most was that, we have consciously avoided pitting one child against the other deliberately avoiding using phrases like, “Who can get into the car first?” Or “Who can get their clothes on first?”, traditionally designed to manipulate children to move quickly through tasks.
So when my eldest daughter, Lucy, came home from care one day, stepped through the front door and turned and announced “I win!” to her bewildered sister, Penny, I wasn’t quite sure how to respond. Initially I thought I would downplay it and it would die a death along with the other “bum bum” and “poo poo head” phases previously experienced. This was made easy in the early days by the fact my youngest had no idea what her older sister was talking about and therefore, did not react.
Clearly, wanting to create a viable competition, Lucy persisted, often repeating herself to Penny in a tormenting tone “I win, Penny! Penny, I win, you lose! I beat you! Mummy, I beat her!” So whilst Penny was not sure what the words Lucy was saying meant, she started getting the feeling that whatever it was, she was coming off second best and she didn’t like it. Before long she had signed herself up for every competition going and I was unwittingly dragged in as an unpaid official.
Soon, we were being woken every morning to the sounds of “I beat you!” followed by the loser’s devastated wail of disappointment and plea against the integrity of the winners self-proclaimed victory. Akin to a world war with so much seemingly at stake for the participants, these Olympic Games were not for the faint-hearted.
As officials, my husband and I were there to ensure the safety of the competitors first and foremost and then to support the emotions of the losing competitor. This was becoming a difficult task with the meltdowns of the losing athlete taking up to an hour to dissipate. Keen to see the back of these championships, I tried a few different techniques.
At first I tried to make it stop. When I could see the children enter the starting blocks, I would be quick to let them know it was not a race and it didn’t matter who won. This did not work however, as in their minds, it was a race and boy-o-boy did it matter who won. What was I thinking? So I began to muse – how could I support my children through this phase and help them through the big feelings when they lost. I could hear my mentor Janet Lansbury in my head saying ‘Let feelings be!’ and I knew I needed to try. I needed to accept these competitions and allow them to run their course, staying unrattled about the big feelings which followed. So my attempt to do this began.
I continued to down play the competitions but used more sportscasting to help the children make sense of what was happening. When one child would announce their victory to their sibling (who was sometimes unaware they were even participating), I would say nothing unless there was persistence in the victor’s announcement or a protest by the loser in which case I would sportscast: “Lucy, you are saying that you got your cup out of the cupboard before Penny. Penny, you are upset.” Then I would acknowledge feelings for as long as I needed to.
This method helped to provide me with the unbiased words I needed to use as the children sorted through their differences and I think it gave the girls an opportunity to learn how to cope with these difficult experiences in a supportive environment, but as months went on and more and more competitions entered our day, the impact on the functioning of our daily lives was getting extreme. It seemed the children were stuck in a competitive rut, addicted to the power they felt as a winner, and my patience was wearing thin.
This was amplified by the fact that the competitions often occurred on the way out the door with the race to get into the car seat first a hotly contested event. I was always dragged into this one because whose door was opened and whose straps were buckled first ultimately decided the winner. Then began the long-winded process to convince the losing party to also get into their seat and get their belt on.
I needed to help them realise that doing something faster, better, stronger or just first was not as important as they were imagining it to be. The victor was being afforded too much power by the reactions of the losing party and starting to seek this powerful feeling by ensuring the loser was well aware that they lost and should be feeling miserable. Their proud announcement of coming out on top was always directed straight at their competition with little regard for sportsmanship.
To help manage this uncomfortable level of power I needed to take some of the sting out of these loaded victory statements. I decided I could do this by countering the statement with a light-hearted but meaningful statement of my own. So when one of them proclaimed “I beat you/ her!” I would say “And I love you/ her” in a similar announcing type tone. They would look at me strangely and then look at the loser and repeat their words, clearly looking for the reaction. I would then repeat my statement and so on. Sometimes I would add a little rhyme, “I love you when you win and I love you when you lose, I love you in the sun and I love you in the moon.”
It has surprised me how well this method has worked. There are still races to get to the shower first, requests to pour their milk first and sprints to get to the car door first but now the fall-out is much less. The losing party is starting to realise that losing is not so bad. Nothing bad really happens and their parents love them just the same. The victor now seems far more comfortable with the power they get from winning and does not seem so caught up in displaying the unsportsmanlike behaviour of rubbing the loser’s nose in it. Sometimes I even hear my eldest respond to her sister’s victory proclamation, “I beat you!” with, “That’s ok. I love you!”
I am so pleased to see the closing ceremony for these Games in sight and in the meantime I hope my children feel more confident to cope with such adverse situations and realise the strength of their own resilience when things don’t quite go their way. They sure seem to.
With two strong-willed children close in age, learning to share in our house has been a long and winding road. Following the wisdom of RIE founder, Magda Gerber, I have been lucky enough to be able to trust in the capabilities and strength of our children and allow them to work through their struggles fairly independently. There have been times, however, that I have struggled with the relentlessness of the battles and am grateful to have had my children patiently coaching me through this stage for as long as I needed.
When sibling rivalry brings you to your wits end, you know something has to change. But what do you do when you are committed to raising your children with respectful parenting practices? When you believe that punishing children for their poor choices is not the way forward for your family and yet nothing else you have done works, it can make you feel a little desperate. Continue reading