February 4, 2015
Last week I was giving talk to a group of women at a church and afterwards a woman came up to me and asked me if my kids fight. I stopped and really thought about it and said, "No, not really."
I'd like to clarify immediately that yes, once in a while they bicker and sometimes the boys put one another down. However, for the most part, my kids do not fight. And honestly they never really did fight much. Sibling fighting in our house has been the exception rather than the norm.
The woman then asked me why I thought they did not fight. I really thought about it for a minute. First, I considered the age difference but I quickly realized that I have clients and friends who have big age gaps and their kids fight a lot.
I really think the reason my kids don't fight very often is that most of the time their emotional buckets are full. Siblings fight primarily out of jealousy, boredom and lack of attention. I firmly believe that if you connect emotionally and meaningfully with each of your children every day, the fighting will be insignificant in your home. That meaningful connection will fill their need for both attention and jealousy. You might see small and occasional bickering but the constant battles will disappear.
What exactly does that daily connection look like? Well it is different for each child depending on both the child and the age. For Kate, it might simply be sitting at the table while she does her homework and asking about her day. It might be watching the last few minutes of her violin lesson and talking to her about the new song she is learning. It might be sitting on the couch snuggling and reading a chapter of Little House on the Prairie with her. I connect with her in a way that she feels my undivided attention and interest.
For Harry, it might be hanging out in his room and asking him about the music on his phone or going out in the garage and looking at the new fishing lures he has painted. When Harry was younger, we would go out in the driveway and throw the baseball back and forth. I was terrible and we would laugh at how uncoordinated I am but it was a great bonding experience for us. Another way to connect with teenage boys is over food. I am not usually a fan of the drive thru or fast food in general, but if I drive through whataburger (it's a Texas/southern thing and my kids love it!) for my boys, they talk and we connect. It's a win-win. Plus my skinny boys can use the extra calories.
With Will, I simply go in his room and hang out on his window seat while he is doing homework. Usually, he will chat with me about his day, friends and classes. But when he was little I would ask about his lego scenes and build something with him. We also connected a lot though reading and books.
By taking just a little bit of time every day to make each child feel special and valued, we reduce the bickering around here. It was not really my intention to connect with them for the purpose of reducing the bickering. I simply want to connect with my children on a daily basis. But I will guarantee for every one reading this…that if you connect with each of your children in a meaningful and consistent way, giving them 100% of your undivided attention, you will not have a lot of bickering and fighting in your home.
I notice that when the boys do criticize one another it is almost ALWAYS after Dave or I just praised one of them or gave one of them extra attention. I can literally see the ugly green monster of jealousy come out in whoever did not get the praise or attention.
My children are not perfect and Dave and I make mistakes in our parenting. There is no such thing as perfect parenting or perfect children. But this is one thing I have noticed…. when my kids needs for attention are being met, our house is a lot more peaceful. I have parents in my office who tell me they don't have time to connect with all of their kids every day. I hear where they are coming from and I can empathize with them. Life is busy. If you are working outside the home and your children are in school and activities, you might only see them a few hours each day. You might not be able to connect with each one every day but try to do it most days.
Also, sometimes it is really hard to connect with a child who in a difficult phase of life. It can be a vicious cycle because often the kid who needs our attention the most is the one it is toughest to spend time with. So, we spend less time connecting with that child and they act out more. But just a few minutes of your undivided attention is the best investment you can make in your relationship with your child. And just think about the time it takes to discipline and intervene in sibling arguments and power struggles. By doing this, you will actually have more time with your children and the time will be positive.
One of the things I recommend to my clients is to keep a small notebook on your bedside table and keep track of how you connect with each child each day. It helps to keep you accountable and it helps you to track the patterns that make a difference with your children. Are there days when I don't connect with all (or any) of my children? Yes, I am human and very flawed. But if I keep track of it, I am more likely to do it.
People ask me all the time if this is true for kids with special needs like ADHD or autism or the like. I think kids with impulsivity will often have more challenges controlling their behavior which can sometimes escalate sibling fighting. But in general ALL kids need these connections daily and they will all benefit from it.