I received a copy of Peaceful Parents, Happy Siblings to facilitate this post, but all opinions are 100% mine — and I would have bought this book anyway because I love Dr. Markham so much!
Two kids! For the couple of years I’ve been a mother of two boys, it feels like I’ve spent half my time trying to get them to share and the other half trying to keep them from beating each other up. We hear a LOT of screaming (mostly from the little brother) due to stolen action figures, broken Lego ships and “accidental” pillow fights.
BUT — my boys have a lot of really sweet moments, too, where I catch them holding hands in the car or reading books together, and those are the times my heart swells and I’m so glad they have each other. My relationship with my siblings wasn’t the best growing up, so I want my boys to be good friends and watch out for each other throughout their lives.
That’s why I’m looking forward to reading Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings by Dr. Laura Markham. Dr. Markham’s website, Aha Parenting, has long been my go-to for parenting inspiration and tips to overcoming the constant behavioral challenges that come with raising small children. This new book outlines tools and ideas that parents and children can use to create close, lifelong sibling bonds in their family.
Here, Dr. Markham shares ten tips for creating a peaceful home with young siblings:
1. When tempers flare between your children, always start by taking a deep breath and reminding yourself to stay calm. Young children’s brains are still developing the capacity to self-regulate, so you can count on childish behavior and some stormy interactions. The parent’s reaction either calms or inflames the storm.
2. Empathy is your magic wand. Children are much more likely to cooperate with your limits if you acknowledge their perspective. “I know, you don’t want to get out of the bathtub….You were splashing your brother’s face…I know you love splashing, but that was too much splashing for him…You can splash in the wading pool tomorrow.” You need to set limits and uphold them, but you never need to be mean about it. Model kindness.
3. Allow all emotions, limit behavior. Kids are allowed to be angry and to express that to each other, but they aren’t allowed to attack each other physically or verbally. “I hear how mad you are at your sister….You can tell her without calling names. The rule in our family is no name-calling.” Remember that when emotions are expressed, they begin to evaporate, so make it safe for your children to cry and talk about what upsets them. This is the first step of children learning to regulate their emotions.
4. Consciously work to create positive interactions between your kids. Every relationship needs six positive interactions for every negative interaction. Laughter and physical contact stimulate bonding hormones like oxytocin and reduce stress hormones, so get your children laughing together and snuggling several times a day.
5. Remember that children need to feel connected to you to WANT to cooperate. When your child gets defiant, consciously relax and try to reconnect by describing the problem from her perspective. “You sound really mad….I guess this isn’t what you wanted…Tell me about it, Sweetie.” Every day, spend one-on-one time with each child just connecting with her. (This is not structured time like reading a story. Let her pick the activity and just pour your love into her as you play with her.) If you create a sweet, deep relationship with each child, they won’t be as threatened by their sibling.
6. Resist blaming, even if you think one child is wrong. It just puts kids on the defensive. Instead, describe the problem as objectively as you can: “I hear loud voices…it sounds like both of you want the elephant.” Decrease your anxiety by reminding yourself that you don’t have to decide who is right. That’s always a mistake because the child who “loses” concludes that you prefer their sibling, which increases sibling rivalry. Instead, prevent any violence by getting between the kids, restore a sense of safety with your calm presence, uphold family rules (“No hitting! Hitting hurts!”) and support your children as they work out a solution.
7. Soothe your kids when they’re upset. All humans have mirror neurons, so we pick up other people’s emotions. But sometimes we find another person’s emotions too upsetting, particularly if we are uncomfortable with our feelings. So when parents soothe an upset child, the child learns that emotions aren’t dangerous, and becomes more comfortable with his own emotions – and more able to tolerate and empathize with the feelings of others, including siblings.
8. Teach empathy and emotional intelligence by talking about emotions every day.
- “I see how disappointed you are.”
- “Soren hurt his knee, ouch! Let’s give him a hug to help him feel better.”
- “I wonder what the baby is feeling when he looks like that?”
- “That little boy is crying; I wonder what is going on?”
- “I’m feeling frustrated…I can’t get this to work right. I’m going to take three deep breaths to calm myself down.”
9. Expect some friction. Conflict is part of every human relationship. Siblings are the people we practice on, who help us smooth away the rough edges of our own self-centeredness. Your job is not to prevent conflict but to help your children learn to calm themselves and work things out respectfully.
10. Expect to repeat yourself. It takes time and repetition, but if you make the time to teach your children to communicate their needs without attacking the other person and to find win/win solutions, they’ll have the skills necessary to create rewarding relationships for the rest of their lives.
Find Laura Markham’s book, “Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings: How To Stop The Fighting and Raise Friends For Life” on Amazon and read more of her work on AhaParenting.com.