Flipping The Sibling Script

Siblings… argh!!!!!!

The most disruptive thing I ever did to my household was add another child. Don’t get me wrong, this child makes my heart sing and I wouldn’t trade our reality for the world but a whole heap of problems came along from that moment.

And I was naively unprepared. I did all those fluffy things like letting my firstborn play pregnant too and have their own baby, get the baby to give the firstborn a special present, read lots of books, etc.

But then the baby came along and in another naive move I got excited at the convenience of my closely attached, Mummy-centric firstborn suddenly switching to Dad. It was exactly what I needed at the time and so I didn’t stop to think what a big leap it was or how it might feel for me to just “let my child go” and of course now I have learned the hard way that all these little oversights become a big thread for the other child/children and get stuffed into their “emotional backpack”.

My best advice to parents adding to their family is to always remember having a sibling is hard and it’s always going to be hard so never stop doing the work to make it easier such as Special Time, Listening Time, plenty of roughhousing, Staylistening and Playlistening but stay aware. Never get complacent! Many times it appears that children have coped quite well with a new sibling but it can never hurt to always be doing the work of celebrating each individual child, hearing each individual child and seeing each individual child.

For those of us who are now in the throes of sibling rivalry. It’s really difficult. It’s one of the biggest triggers for me as a parent and I have a wonderful relationship with my siblings and can’t remember much horror from the past, so I can only imagine how much harder it is if those traumas are still in existence or easy to remember.

When I had one child, they were my whole world, no one was ever going to hurt them on my watch and I would do anything to protect them… from anything!!

So what happens then when you have another child that you feel that way about, only the threat is internal?!

We’ve heard stories of parents summoning superhuman strength to protect their children. A switch just goes off inside us when our babies are in peril so how unbelievably confusing/scary/torturous/painful is it when your baby is being threatened by your other baby.

We talk about how the brain goes offline and our kids can’t think when they are overwhelmed by big feelings… well, I’m sorry to say that this often happens to us too. It often happens to me. I think my worst parenting moments have been when there’s been a heinous act of sibling rivalry.

Dr Laura Markham (author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings) recommends parents use a Stop, Drop and Breathe process when responding to a situation which means Stopping what you are doing/thinking, Dropping your agenda – what you are hoping to get out of the situation, your own ideas on how to move forward or your own thoughts and fears about the situation and Breathing before responding in full trigger mode and she also suggests having a mantra you say to help you drop your agenda such as “My child is not a problem, my child is having a problem…”

And that is wonderful advice because (again) the mind noise is at it’s worst for me when sibling drama is involved:

“The poor thing is going to need years of therapy!”

“If I let them get bullied they will become a bully themselves!”

“My child is a monster!”

“This child has absolutely NO empathy!”

“How have I messed this up so bad already?”

“How can I have created a human like this?”

Of course these are examples of my worst thoughts in my worst moments but they also demonstrate how weighty it feels in that moment.

One of the best tools for that is getting yourself listened to by a loving listener.

Another important thing when it comes to sibling drama is to flip the script on the characters and narratives when it comes to sibling issues.

Myself and my closest family members have been complicit in rooting my kids into the roles of “perpetrator” and “victim” and as the children grow older and wiser they can be compelled to make the most of these roles which doesn’t help us and doesn’t help their relationship with one another.

So one of the most important things to do is fortify yourself with Listening Time and other valuable self-care tools including some good mantras so that you can try to come to each sibling altercation with fresh eyes. Siblings Without Rivalry by Faber & Mazlish has some great real-life scenarios and tools for this approach. Try to step into the scenario with patience and the ability to listen and hear and often even empower the rowing siblings to find their own solution.

The more we are able to do this as well as fill their individual cups with Special Time and also use that one-on-one delighting time to connect with the person that they really are (and not the “monster” that we see when tensions are running high) then the more likely we are to be able to lessen these instances but we also should be wary that sibling drama is healthy and normal so we can’t expect never to have it. It’s how our children learn to respect other human beings of all walks of life and solve complicated disputes.

The other wonderful tool at our disposal is courtesy of the king of play, Dr Larry Cohen who suggests one of the best ways to solve sibling disputes is to unite them against a common enemy… YOU!!

One of my favourite of his games is to respond to a sibling scuffle with “How about picking on someone your own size like ME?!” Or “Ok… you guys can fight just whatever you do, don’t try to knock me over!” And as with all Playful Parenting the idea is for you to be the weaker, incompetent bumbling fool.

There are myriad benefits to having more than one child but as conscious parents we just have to remember that it’s never easy to have to share resources, especially ones as fulfilling as love and adoration. As I said, this is a VERY hard area for me too! So let’s make a pact to stay aware and to do the best we can!

With love and understanding,
Aunty Ask xx