There are two actors in every sibling drama: the child who provokes and the child who reacts. We tend to spend all of our time getting the provoking child to stop; but the truth is the reacting child is 50% of the problem…and therefore 50% of the solution. S/he is an equal and willing partner in the dynamic.
Relationships always take two people, but it only takes one person to break a negative cycle. So how can you help your reacting child break the cycle and create a better sibling relationship?
When we baby a reactive child, we create a victim. “I'm so sorry your brother is irritating. Listen, your childhood is going to be awful until your brother goes off to college. Sorry.” I just created a victim. Instead, speak honestly:
- YOU have a choice in how you respond in this situation.
- You are going to be annoyed by people your entire life. If all you ever do is react to irritating people, or react to disappointing situations, you are likely to be a miserable, powerless person. That's your choice.
- Every time your brother pokes you, calls you a name, takes something from your room or looks at you…and you react to him…you are giving him POWER over your moods, attitude and actions. Do you like being your brother's puppet? When you react, he is controlling and becoming the boss of you.
Now your child may say, “But you don't know what my brother did.” My reply is, “I am NOT interested in what your brother said or did. I am interested in only one thing: what YOU are going to do the next time your brother irritates you?”
Now that you've created some clarity about the situation, your child may say, “Well, next time I'm going to hit him.”
Your response might be: “You can do that, but it means your brother is controlling you even more. He provokes you, you react by hitting, and that's the exact moment I walk in the living room and see you retaliating. Now you're in trouble and your brother is mocking you.”
Try these strategies to help your child focus on a positive response:
- Role-play with your kids. Recreate common situations and teach them different ways to respond. Teach them to kill with kindness—when your brother tries to irritate you, take back control by doing something kind to him. You are Teflon—it doesn't bother you! Show your kids how to walk away from their siblings and come to you in a mature way, rather than tattling or whining. Show them how to lead rather than react: “I'm not going to react to you, but I will play football with you.”
- Here's a great visual prompt. When your kids are squabbling, hold up a Kleenex as a reminder that your child is “surrendering” his power. “Why are you surrendering to your brother?”
Siblings will keep picking on each other as long as they get the reaction they want. This is what self-respect might look like.
- “Jason, I know you think you can irritate me and get a reaction from me. I refuse to give you power over my mood and attitude. You DO NOT get to choose that. I do. I have too much self-respect to react to you…just because you look at me, steal something from me or call me a name. So try all you want, but I have too much self-respect to allow you to control me.”
- Your child can demonstrate leadership by adding, “But if you want to go outside and play football, I WILL do that with you.” Then he can walk away. That is strength and confidence.
Take time this summer to teach your kids the most important skill they can develop: the ability to control themselves, not other people.