Despite the fact that I coach parents for a living and have taught children and adults of all ages to communicate, cooperate and resolve conflicts peacefully for over 15 years. My two children, ages 8 and 11, disagree, argue and instigate one another daily, of course some days are better than others. But, I can assure you that I have been working since the day my daughter joined our family to address the delicate needs and feelings of both children, particularly my son, who did not choose to become a brother!
Sibling rivalry is not inevitable! My children are raised to be heard, understood, acknowledged and respected since the day they were born. Our only real “rule” in our home is mutual respect. This simply means to be courteous and compassionate while being mindful of others people’s feelings. Our actions affect others, not only in our home environment, but everywhere we go. We have explained and modeled that with freedom comes responsibility. This certainly applies to everyone, everywhere, however, sometimes one’s freedom can infringe upon someone else’s freedom and vice-versa.
Lately, the most common place where hostility arises seems to be at mealtimes. We take pride in the fact that we do sit down together as a family to eat and connect. However, this is also a time when my son and daughter enjoy being very silly, even a bit loud at times! They’ve explained to my husband and I that all day in school they are disciplined, well-behaved, cooperative and quiet. Therefore, this is a time and place where they feel comfortable showing the more immature side or age-appropriate side of themselves. This, they clearly have in common. There’s even something heartwarming about their authentic connection as siblings to create such comfort, sense of ease and humor together.
My son and daughter care deeply for each other and have become friends as they find themselves having more in common as they grow older. This doesn’t mean that they don’t have their differences and disagreements – particularly when you share parents, a home and living space. But, this isn’t justification for physical roughness or harsh language when interacting with one another. They can be quite playful, laugh and enjoy time together – BUT, name-calling, yelling, hitting, slapping or any other form of aggressive behavior is simply not tolerated, nor has it ever been a problem in their relationship. They know internally and have been taught to listen to their inner voice (gut) which lets them know if/when they’ve gone too far, hurt someone’s feelings or physically hurt someone. This instinct is way more powerful than any punishment we could impose – this intrinsic motivation to treat others in a kind and gentle way nurtures their sense of compassion for themselves, others and consideration for their own along with other people’s feelings and perspectives. This is what makes them unique, thoughtful and caring individuals. We are so proud of their constant efforts and understand that this labor of love is a work in progress.
So, for sure, they have been given the tools and consistent reminders for healthy, productive and mutually respectful listening, communication and conflict resolution throughout their lives. But, among the countless responsibilities we have as parents, these skills must be reinforced over and over again. That’s okay and it makes perfect sense considering all kids are growing, changing, maturing and so then are their capabilities, interests and awareness. If we see our children, even from a very young age as little people, with qualities that can be nurtured with proper time, persistence and patience we will help support healthy habits that will create a beautiful foundation for the rest of their lives.