Discipline is a constant question on parents’ minds and usually starts with the phrase – “What do I do when my child hits their sibling?…
Our instincts and emotions are there to protect and defend our kids and can kick into high gear when we witness acts of aggression, meanness, and immature behavior as our children attack each other. But our own impatience and annoyance can add more fuel to the fire of frustration that is already burning, and it can be costly to our relationships with them. There is no greater test to a parent’s maturity than dealing with the immature ways of relating that our kids present. How do we bear witness to acts of aggression while keeping our cool and remaining in the role of the adult? And how do we lead through these difficult situations while protecting our relationship?
There are few more provocative things for a parent than watching the children you love get hurt or hurt each other.
It is also helpful to think ahead of problems and to set up interactions between kids with some guidance. You might say, “When you play together you are both going to have ideas and things you want. If you can’t figure it out then come and get me, or work together to compromise if you can.” Depending on the age of the child, different strategies may be used. Preschoolers will definitely need more direct help, but older children can become more skilled at navigating these differences, particularly if they care about playing together.
What helped me remain patient throughout these episodes is knowing that her immature way of relating was not personal but developmental, and that these were the teachable moments that helped me prepare her for a world where there is no shortage of disappointments.
Reading picture books that portray what a real sorry looks like, as it does in The Sorry Plane, is helpful for normalizing frustration as well as conveying the importance of saying you’re sorry from a place of caring.
Perhaps if we could accept that kids are immature, that they will fight, and that this is part of our role as parents to help them navigate conflict, then we might find the patience we need when things are coming undone. It is hard to watch them hurt each other but our focus shouldn’t be on making them get along. As mature adults, we just need to make sure we continually express our caring as we deal with a (natural and temporary!) lack of caring in them. • Dr. Deborah MacNamara is the Director of Kid's Best Bet counselling center, she is on Faculty at the Neufeld Institute, the author of Rest, Play, Grow: Making Sense of Preschoolers (or anyone who acts like one), which has been translated into 11 languages, and a children's picture book The Sorry Plane. For more information please see www.macnamara.wpengine.com This article first appeared in the Winter 2020 edition of EcoParent Magazine.
Most kids understand to some degree that their siblings will get frustrated with them. What they have a harder time with is why their parents don’t intervene to help and provide reassurance that the problem isn’t them.