Kids fight. Sibling conflict is a reality in just about every family. It is hard to know how to parent with wisdom and confidence in the middle of a battle over who has the most space in the backseat or who got the bigger piece of cake. These kinds of fights seem to happen every day and wear parents out the most because they seem to ramp up so quickly. Suddenly, the fight is no longer about the seat space or the cake but about bigger issues–like selfishness or your child’s character. Things can get out of hand pretty quickly and it is hard to know how to respond to conflict in a way that promotes growth and peace instead of hurt and anger. Many parents feel stuck in defeating patterns when their kids are fighting. Perhaps it is time to think about new ways to help with sibling conflict.
Connected Families developed this 4-level framework to help parents rethink about sibling conflict from a place of wisdom and confidence.
Take a look at this 5-minute video which teaches about a helpful approach to look at the ways that conflict can be an opportunity to build wisdom.
Some highlights from the video:
Attempts at solving sibling conflict by implementing a formula of “Apologize, go to your room, and don’t come out until you are ready to be nice,” often are counterproductive.
We learned to change our perspective about misbehavior and began to think of things like conflict as an opportunity to build long-term skills and wisdom in our kids.
We began to realize that our homes and our families needed to have connectionin order to thrive.
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When kids feel safe with us and truly understood, they usually will open their hearts. This allows us to walk alongside them in the vulnerable journey of learning about emotions and empathy for others.
As we embark on this journey with them, the more creative and non-judgmental we are, the more they can learn.
Today we’ll look at how to approach teaching kids empathy from the last two principles in our Framework: Coach and Correct.
Developing empathy for others is one of the greatest gifts we can give our kids. It’s a “must have” if we want to equip them for healthy intimate relationships in life.
Every child is capable of learning empathy, but it can be quite difficult to learn (especially if your child is experiencing a lot of anxiety and stress in life).
In fact, often we expect our kids to just “know” how to be empathetic, even when things are stressful. In the heat of conflict, I may ask, “Do you know how [your sibling] feels right now!?” and expect my child to be able to give an insightful answer.
If our kids really could respond insightfully at that point, they might say something like this: “Regretfully, I don’t know how my sibling feels. My brain is in a fight/flight state, and my amygdala has shut down what little there is of my still quite immature frontal lobe, including the section* where I can process empathy. So my sister might as well be speaking Wookie.”
Clearly, the starting point for teaching kids empathy is not in the heat of the moment.
We learned this pretty quickly with our kids. Our oldest son, Daniel, was dealing with the stress of an extremely gifted brain and intense emotions. He didn’t easily “step into another person’s shoes” or perspective, especially when upset. Bethany generally understood others’ feelings but had difficulty verbalizing her own during conflict resolution. Our youngest, Noah, was a happy-go-lucky guy who simply didn’t think about feelings a lot. We had our work cut out for us.
We learned some practical ways to help all our kids develop the rich emotional insight that has equipped them for wonderful relationships in life – with each other and others. The framework that guided us in our early years was particularly helpful in this challenge of developing empathy.
Let’s take a look at how each level of the Framework informs our approach to developing empathy in our kids.
Most parents have endured one of those days when everything goes wrong.
At the end of such a day, it can be easy to fall into that familiar litany: “Life is so hard, these kids are doomed, I’m a failure as a parent.” The thing is, this pattern — though common — is actually the start of an unhelpful spiral. These types of statements are examples of a tendency known as “extreme thinking,” which forms black and white judgments about the moment (one part of the picture) – and uses those judgments to define the whole picture.
I remember like yesterday walking in the door after work to what I believed were out-of-control children in my wife’s care. She’d lean into me for help and I’d quickly get the kids in line. “Why can’t Lynne get this?” I’d wonder.
Over time, however, I started seeing things a bit differently. As my kids grew older my seeming ability to quickly control them began to waver, and particularly my daughter seemed less interested in being alone with me.
I grew in my understanding about what had been going on all these years on the day my daughter rushed to her mother in tears because I had “yelled” at her. In my mind I had not even raised my voice, but was just getting firm in order to get her to behave.
Two things happened that day that helped reshape my thinking.
Rick was feeling impatient with the way his wife was responding to their children’s misbehavior
He shared his thoughts with me during a recent conversation: “I’ve always been the kind of dad that likes to get things done efficiently. When I’d come home and see my wife in seemingly endless conversations with the kids about cleaning up messes or how to treat each other, I’d step in and take over because I figured sometimes these kids just need to know what’s what and who the parent is. The kids would comply and we’d get on with life. At the time I thought my wife was taking way too much time to do what should be quick and pretty easy.”
Since Rick was talking as if that was the way it once was, I asked him what had changed. Here’s what Rick said: