Sunday, May 6, 2012

Conflict Resolution for Little Sibs

If you have more than one child, or if you grew up in a family with brothers and / or sisters, you know that siblings can be the best of friends, but they also know how to really do things or say things that hit hard.
In the inner circle of sibling relationships, what makes it more hurtful when they do something that you don't like is that it is way more than just a stranger calling you a name or doing something to hurt you:
Your family knows your weaknesses, your insecurities...they know where you might be more sensitive or fragile than say the other kid off the street.
The other thing is that with sibling issues, it becomes more of a cumulative effect instead of just a single event.
If a sibling hits on something that is particularly hurtful with the other sibling, it becomes fodder for future arguments.
It is as if there is a running "note to file" when it comes to interactions with brothers and sisters.
Well, the thing is that in most cases, those little things that you do to a brother or sister stays with them from the second you say it throughout your whole life and their whole life as well.
Yes, you forgive them, as you have to, because you love them as they are a part of your family, but you never ever really forget.
There are certain inside insults and hurtful things that in one word, can bring back a flood of memories and feelings.

When I look back on my childhood and try to reflect upon my interactions with my brothers and my sister, I have many fond memories, full of happy times, but then, there are also some distinct memories of me being bossy to them. Am the oldest of six children and as such, took on the role of Mother Hen. Could be very helpful and kind at times, but I also could be very bossy and if they did not listen, then would be mean by saying things that would hurt them at their core.
The one I probably did this to the most was my sister. She and I shared a bedroom on and off and at different times, we both said things and did things that were not the way we would ever want to be captured on a family home movie. For this, I am genuinely sorry. Thankfully, we did have some wonderful times full of fun days in the mix too.

Well, reflecting upon all of this has made me realize that I need to come up with ways for my sons to be able to have a better tool kit for conflict resolution. I want them to grow in their relationship instead of letting their relationship with each other fizzle. Dear Hubby and I always hope and pray that they will remain close for their entire lives.

Back in the day, when we were growing up, there really wasn't an attempt to resolve conflicts or to actively apologize and reaffirm love for each other. When you hurt someone, you may have had to say a forced "I'm Sorry", but true feelings and getting to the root of the problem, as well as truly resolving conflicts, were not addressed.
Possibly one or both of you would have a punishment, ranging from a spanking to being sent to your room. Or perhaps, you would get to do a task, such as washing and scrubbing the floors (that was usually doled out to my sister and me) to cutting the grass (that was usually doled out to my brothers).
But now, in this day and age, in our family, we don't spank our children, nor do we use some of these other deterrents, so we try to have other ways of dealing with conflict between siblings.

So, what can work as far as conflict resolution between siblings?

In a Montessori inspired home, you could consider setting up a peace table.
Have them sit and work through things there.
You can decorate it with some lovely items from nature. You can add a small fish tank.
You can have a little basket of books about feelings and peace.
And these are all lovely, and in the Montessori classroom, this works great, along with sharing of the peace rose or having a peace pole at school...

But then, what to do if you are someplace other than your home that is lacking a peace table?

Well, this is what we have been trying to address here in our home.

What we have come up with is that the boys have to sit "knee to knee" while working it out...they have to calm themselves down before sitting knee to knee, as otherwise, with being that physically close to one another could potentially make it too convenient to just take it out on one another physically.
So, first, they have to calm down, then sit "knee to knee." They have to keep their hands on their knees to avoid finger pointing, fist forming, or arms crossing, as any negative or aggressive body language would break down the communication between them. They are supposed to give each other eye contact.
They can use their hands as they "have the floor" and are explaining a point to one another, but then, their hands are to go back onto their knees. What I have noticed on many occasions is that one or the other will try to hold the other's hand. We did not model this for is just something that seems to happen on its own when they share their feelings.
Each person is to be given a time to "have the floor" is their turn to share their grievances, but the goal is to focus not only on what happened,  but how that particular action made them feel.
So, for instance, one might say something like "When you did not play the game fairly, you hurt my feelings. Not following the rules and then, laughing about it made me feel sad."
Then, the other one might try to either explain what happened from their perspective, or in many cases, if they know that there really is not an explanation, they learn to say something along the lines of "I am sorry that I hurt your feelings. I wish that next time we play, that I'll remember to not do that to you." They usually give each other a hug when they are finished and then, they get up and move forward with the rest of their day.

We do sometimes use a version of time-out, in conjunction with sitting "knee to knee" if either my husband or I feel that there is a need, but not to be punitive as much as giving them a chance to be apart from each other and a chance to calm down, regroup, and reflect before sitting "knee to knee." They are supposed to use the time to "do some thinking", which also in most cases, includes a few seconds where they ask God to help them. As a family, we believe in the Golden Rule, so if they have done something that is not in line with this, we want them to reflect on this to ask God for help.
It needs to be done in a quiet way, not in a way that detracts from the situation.

We have modeled how all of this is supposed to play out for the boys and so now, when things happen, it is pretty automatic.

Still love the concept of a peace table, but sometimes, when you are out and about, say at the pool, there will not be a peace table handy.

Here, in our home, we have come up with this way to promote positive conflict resolution for little sibs.

This is what works for us for now. If we see that it starts to be less effective as they get older, then we will follow their lead and will come up with another proactive way for them to try to resolve conflicts.

The goal though is to give them a toolkit that will make more of their day-to-day experiences into treasured memories of childhood, not ones that you wish that would be forgotten.

What do you do in your family to have your children resolve sibling conflicts?
In this photo, you can see Little Bro starting to hold onto Big Bro's hand as they are working something out with each other. I don't make a point of taking photos while they are in the process of negotiating, but this conflict resolution was something that was very minor, at the pool...and after I quickly snapped the photo, I asked them if they were okay with me sharing the photo and our family's way of conflict resolution on my blog and they agreed to this...

Here are the best brothers / best friends. Makes me so happy that they are very close!
Would love it if you would share!
If you try this "knee to knee" and this works for your family, hope that you will come back to let me know!

Hope that you had a happy weekend with your family!

We had a happy one here!

1 comment:

Mommy Moment said...

Great post Colleen, we might have to try this with our girls. Who ever said this parenting gig was easy? It is always nice to see what is working for other families, please thank your boys for letting you share the photos with us!


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