25 Apr

Sibling fight breaks out in the Happiest Place on Earth

It’s supposed to be the “Happiest Place on Earth” but after long days, long lines, and large scoops of ice cream, it can get unhappy pretty fast.

I’m talking about Disneyland, where all 5 members of my family shared one hotel room for four nights over Spring Break a few weeks ago.

Three of us were sick with cough/colds.

On night 3, the inevitable sibling flight broke out over who was sleeping where.  My middle child, E, was readying herself for sleep and found my oldest, C, comfortably playing a game in “her” spot.  She asked him to move.

“I’m comfortable here,” C said.

“But that’s my spot,” replied E.

“It’s my spot tonight,” said C.  “Just sleep over there.”

E retorted, “I can’t sleep over there because I’m sick and I want to be close to my water bottle, also I’m more comfortable being on the right with my legs flopping over the mattress.”

C lobbed back,  “You always whine until you get your way.  This time you’re not going to get it.”

The argument went back and forth for a while until E decided (wisely) to take a break to brush her teeth.

When she returned, C had not moved.  The yelling began.

I could tell that my usual, “I see one special spot on the bed and two children who want it; how can you solve this problem?” wasn’t going to work this time.  So I went “below the line. . .”

“Hey, it looks like we have a power struggle here.  You both want the same spot on the bed, and no one seems willing to budge.   E feels she should have it because she’s more comfortable there.  C feels he should have it because he’s here now.  Guys, can you each tell me what is really important to you right now? What really matters to you?”

E:  “It’s really important to me to sleep here because I’m sick and it’s closer to my water bottle and I’m more comfortable here.”

C:  “It’s important to me that I get this spot.”

I probed a bit deeper, “C, it sounded to me like what really mattered to you was that E shows some flexibility every now and then, and compromises on what she wants, isn’t that right?”  C agreed.

So then I asked C, “Since it’s really important to E to be close to her water bottle and flop her legs over on this side tonight, perhaps you could pick another time for E to be flexible.  Like maybe even tomorrow when she wants to eat at a certain place or ride a certain ride?”

E agreed and C did so reluctantly, only feeling more comfortable when we put the agreement in writing, with a date, where all could see it the next morning.

He moved over, and we went to bed.  Whew!

The technique I used to help them resolve their conflict is called, “Going Below The Line” (see image below).   I learned it from Woody and Judy Square in a “Marriage Tune Up” class.  Turns out it is a very useful tool for helping siblings with conflict, too!

Please write me if you’d like to learn more about why siblings fight, what parents unwittingly do to make it worse, and what we can do to help siblings control their emotions, manage their own conflicts, and enjoy each other more.
Going Below The Line for Conflict Resolution Example