This tale is true. And recent. Although names have been changed to protect the (somewhat) innocent.
We were boarding a plane, on our way back from Spring break. My two daughters were in front of me, moving down the aisle toward our row, and arguing about who would get the window seat.
I was trying to stay out of it but felt quite self-conscious as they passed aisle after aisle of people eavesdropping on their argument. (Would these eavesdroppers know that I was a Parenting Coach? I hoped not!)
The older one: “You got the window seat last time. It’s my turn!”
The younger one: “But you got it on the longer stretch to Miami! I only got the short stretch!”
The younger one, who also had the advantage of going first down the aisle, moved into our row first, and took her seat at the window. The older one sat next to her, and continued to argue her position.
My son took the aisle seat next to my daughters, while my husband and I sat across the aisle on the same row.
The argument got louder. So I tried my favorite “phrase that pays” in such situations: “I see two girls and only one window seat. What can you do to solve this problem?”
Older daughter replies, “Jessie can just move over!”
Younger one says, “Serena can give me a turn!”
Dang. Phrase did not pay.
Note to reader: No tool works every time, with every child, in every situation. That’s why you need many tools!
Argument continues, louder. Mom’s embarrassment increases.
I look over and see that my older daughter is now pressing her whole body (which is about 2.5 x’s the size and weight of younger daughter’s) over into my younger daughter’s seat, squashing her into the corner.
In my best “whisper-yell” (you know what I’m talking about, right?), I say, “Serena, what are you DOING?!! You’re squashing your sister!” (So much for the question.)
Serena replies, “I’m not squashing her. I’m just trying to see out the window.”
“Really?” I ask, incredulously.
I get up from my seat, lean over into their space, look them both in the eye and say very firmly but calmly, “I know you two can come up with something that’s fair for everyone. Once the seat belt sign goes off, I’ll come back to hear what you’ve come up with.”
And what do you know? They did. It took a bit more squabbling, and me biting my tongue (it helped that I was locked into my seat during take-off,) but by the time the seat belt sign went off, they both looked at me and gave me the “thumbs up.”
Why were they able to figure it out? For sure there’s some luck here, but also, we’ve been training for these moments for years. Here are some of the elements of our work out:
- Teach siblings tools for conflict resolution and compromise for example, “I Statements,” taking turns, rock-paper-scissors, pick a number, and Wheel of Choice to name a few. It’s so easy to just yell, “Stop fighting!” But that kind of edict doesn’t help kids learn what they can do when they’re angry with each other.
- “Put them in the same boat.” This Positive Discipline tool is simply about treating siblings evenly. (As in #3 below.) When parents rush in to pity the victim and vilify the bully, we push our kids even farther to opposite corners of the ring.
- Describe what you see without judgment, then invite them to find a solution. For example, “I see two kids and one window seat.” No judgment, no blame, no victims, no bullies. I followed it up with, “What can you do to solve this problem?” OK, it didn’t work this time. But often it does!
- Express faith in your kids’ ability to solve problems. I did this by saying, “I know you two can come up with something that’s fair for everyone. Once the seatbelt sign goes off, I’ll come back to hear what you’ve come up with.”
- Give siblings some space to work things out for themselves. When we parents jump in and solve our kids’ problems for them, they don’t get the opportunity to practice solving problems for themselves.
- Stop worrying about what other people think of your parenting skills. Wow, this is a hard one for me, but I find that when I parent to win the approval of others, I make some pretty bad decisions.
If you’ve been reading my blog, you know that my kids’ squabbles aren’t always so nicely resolved. (See “The Surprising Parenting Lesson from My Morning from Hell”) But even when they don’t have happy endings, we are all learning along the way. And that’s what it’s all about.
As long as you’re willing to reflect on your parenting, and learn from mistakes, you’re doing an amazing parenting job. Who cares what other people think?!
What are your tips for helping siblings get along? I always enjoy hearing your thoughts and questions so please leave a comment below!
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