“MUM!  He hit me!”

“I’m dobbing on you!  MUM!”

“MUUUMMMMMM……… He’s being mean to me!!”

I’m guessing these are the familiar sounds to anyone who has more than one child.  Sure, there are those blissful moments when they invent a game and play happily together.  But let’s face it, these moments can seem few and far between.

Growing up my sister was my best friend.  We played, we laughed, we cried and we were allies in ganging up and leaving out our brother – the ‘middle’ child.  Poor *Stanley* (I’m protecting your identity and dignity, bro).  Try as he might, he did not fit into our play.  And instead of leaving us alone, he decided he was going to do his best to annoy the hell out of us.  Fart noises under the arm pit, hiding monopoly money under the board to later rub in our faces, saving his lollies till he was sure we were all finished so that he could blissfully eat them in front of our jealous eyes.

Ah, sibling love.

But how do we as parents handle it?  It can drive parents CRAZY to listen to the squabbling day in and day out.  Since I’ve became acquainted with ‘How to talk so kids listen’ I’ve picked up some great skills that have worked for me MOST of the time.  Nothing works ALL the time but it’s great to have some strategies to ‘have a go’.  Here are 5 skills I’ve used, and I’ll give them a 75% success rate…

  1. Try not to get involved.  This is tough, I grant you.  Many parents say to me ‘But I can’t stand listening to it!’ and I totally get that.  But TRY.  Walk away if you need to.  And I don’t mean ignore dangerous situations or allow unacceptable behaviour.  I mean the everyday, run of the mill ‘It’s my turn!’ and ‘He took my toy!’ kind of stuff.

  2. Following on with number one, don’t give advice or take sides.  When my kids come to me with such stories I listen, say ‘Oh’ and maybe ‘hmmm… sounds like you’ve got a problem’.  Of course, this response is not what they are hoping for which leaves them no choice but to go and figure it out themselves!  I have often overheard the yelling and arguing taking place, but amazingly – I have also heard the negotiations!!  Many times it works itself out – and I didn’t have a part in it.

  3. In cases of a child hurting another, give your attention to the ‘victom’ first.  We often turn to the person doing the hurting to reprimand them, however this is still giving them attention (and many will take positive OR negative attention).  It is possible to reprimand and give attention to the ‘victom’ at the same time by describing “Oh!  You were hit on the leg by your sister!  That must have hurt!  She did not follow the rule of keeping her hands and feet to herself at all!”  Obviously this needs to be said in earshot of the culprit at appropriate volume!!  By doing this you are a) describing the problem, b) acknowledging their feelings and c) emphasising the expectation of keeping hands and feet to yourself.

  4. No past behaviours allowed!  Just because your child hit their sibling yesterday does not mean it’s expected they will do it again.  Statements like ‘You ALWAYS hit your sister!’ or ‘I can’t believe you are picking on your brother AGAIN!’ can start to cast roles on children.  The problem with roles is that kids start to fulfil them…. If Mum and Dad think I’m a bully, I may as well act like a bully.  Deal with each situation as it comes – separately and with fresh eyes and ears.

  5. Praise.  Witness an act of kindess between siblings – describe it!  “You noticed your sister was coughing and you got her a drink – how thoughtful!”  Keeping positive will prevent actions and behaviours moving into the negative.

I’m not saying it’s easy.  Heck, I only have two kids and they drive me nuts at times!  But swooping in to micromanage every situation is not helping kids build independence and resilience.

Yes, it’s uncomfortable to hear fighting.  Yes, we want our kids to get on well.  But if their issue doesn’t directly relate to you – take a back step.  Observe.  Sometimes… just sometimes… they can work it out on their own.

It may not be the way you would do it but it’s not your relationship being tested… it’s theirs – and we need to see our kids as capable individuals who can have a crack at sorting out their own problems.