You know the scene. Two children both want the same thing. Or one of them is hurting the other. Or they are complaining and nagging each other.
We can’t help ourselves, we come to the rescue. “Why don’t you go first and then the other one can have a turn next?” “Why are you always picking on your brother?” “Why can’t you two just leave each other alone.”
When we step in like this we actually make things worse. The children start to get irritated at us, they think that we take sides (usually in favour of the younger child), and the fighting can often escalate as the children are getting our attention even if it is negative attention.
So what can we do instead?
We can be the mediator rather than judge and jury. A mediator listens to both sides but stays neutral.
“It looks like you were playing with that and (to the other child) you’d really like a turn too.”
“You seem really upset. Will you each tell me what’s going on for you?”
Then, do nothing. PAUSE. See if the children can work it out. Perhaps remind them of a rule, “We share by taking turns. It will be available soon.” But stop yourself from solving the problem for them.
And what if there is a young baby? You’d be surprised at the solutions they come up with. I often give the example of Oliver and Emma both wanting to play with the same vehicle. Oliver would have been under 2 and Emma was just crawling. I stated something like, “Two kids and one vehicle. I wonder how you’ll solve the problem,” and then PAUSED. I proceeded to watch quietly as Oliver took the front wheels off the vehicle to give to Emma and they both played with half each. A far more creative solution than I would have come up with and they solved the problem themselves.
And if they are hurting each other. We can still step in without blaming either of them. We can separate them – “you go this side and you come to the other side” and, once they are calm, they can solve the problem with us as a neutral mediator if needed.
Give it a try for a week and see how you go:
1. be neutral
2. let them be heard
3. PAUSE to see if they can solve the problem
More on siblings
* 10 tips for dealing with siblings
* a summary of the book Siblings without Rivalry
* Simone’s podcast episode with Nicole Kavanaugh about raising 4 children and a dog
* Simone’s podcast with Junnifa Uzodike about building trust with her three children