HELPING SIBLING RIVALRY THROUGH MINDFULNESS

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Raising mindful, loving and kind children is the wish of many parents. For most moms and dads, parenting is an act of selflessness: our kids come first. We strive to be patient as they bicker, fight, question our requests and negotiate chores. Parenthood is much harder than I ever imagined, even being a spiritual and mostly grounded individual.

I grew up fighting with my brother and my karma now is to play referee to Audrey and Blaine, ages nine and six, respectively. In a perfect world our children would not fight; there would be less shootings and less rage. We can’t change world events, but we can change how we interact and react to the children in our lives. Upon the onset of a disagreement, here are a few temporary fixes:

• Yelling, screaming, calling names.
• Ignoring the situation.

• Telling the kids to work it out on their own.
• Sending the kids to their rooms.

After countless perceived failures in handling fights, I read two books that provided some valuable insight and suggestions. In Adele Faber’s, Siblings Without Rivalry, the strategy is to acknowledge your children’s angry feelings:

• Use phrases such as “you sound furious” or a comment like “that could make you mad.”
• Promote creative expressions by drawing.
• Suggest writing or keeping a journal.
• Provide ideas to physically expel the anger.

The Art of Communicating from Zen master and best-selling author Thich Nhat Hanh includes endless ideas for how to better manage arguments, one of which is called “Beginning Anew”—a three step process to complete in a meeting or ceremony format:

• Water the flowers by showing appreciation for each person in the family.
• Express regrets of actions for which we want to apologize.
• Relay hurts and difficulties in which others have made us feel sad.

helpingsibling2I was blown away with the first test, during which I used a blended approach to quell a morning of sibling chaos. On a cold, wintery day, the kids were off from school. Trying to juggle working from home, I chose to ignore the screaming from the other room. Maybe this one time ignoring them would work? I let the fighting continue until it escalated to something physical. Then I took a deep breath and reminded myself that today I could find patience. I said, “I know you both are feeling angry right now. I want to hear about what happened.” I gave them each a journal and said, “You can either write about what happened or you can draw a picture.”  My son started to scream, “But I want to punch her.”  Holding my patience, I replied, “Okay, go to your room and do what you need to do, get all the anger out.” There was silence as they disappeared to separate rooms.

 

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Blaine was the first to come to my office, squashing some orange slime in his hand. He began to describe the slime as his sister’s heart, which he was hurting just as she hurt his heart. Holding space for the words, he continued to express how he felt sad because all he wanted was to play with her. I acknowledged how this would make him sad. Next, Audrey came downstairs. I asked both kids to join me in our yoga room. We sat in a circle; I rang the chime a few times and lit some sage to bring us into the moment.

Watering Flowers—I thanked them for making me breakfast. Audrey said one nice thing about her brother. And then Blaine, who typically does not express his feelings, went on and on in gratitude for his sister, “I love you, you are the best sister, you help me with my homework.” I sat in awe and saw that my daughter was smiling. She said, “Thank you, buddy. I love you, too.”

Regrets—I expressed regret for yelling at them earlier in the week, as I was still feeling bad about my behavior. Audrey shared that she was sorry about hitting her brother, and he was sorry as well for going into her room. The mood shifted, and they sat closer to each other.

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Expressing Hurt—I said, “It really hurts my feelings when you both do not listen to me.” My daughter revealed a journal page of pictures with step-by-step scenes illustrating the escalation of her anger as her brother tried different tactics to get in her room. My son’s page contained the words “love” and “love you.” He shyly said, “I just wanted you to play with me, and I love you so much.” With tears in my eyes, I realized the simplicity of what had transpired. My son’s aggression and aggravation toward his sister was just a ploy to get her attention. My daughter had tried to remain calm, yet the persistence made her snap.

We all learned a lesson on understanding, compassion and in looking for the deeper-rooted emotions of our anger. We may not perfectly execute these strategies moving forward, but there’s hope and faith we can make a difference amongst our families by trying to live more peacefully.

If we teach our children how to communicate now, we give them the skills to handle difficult conversations. If we guide them, they will be able to gracefully acknowledge how others are feeling. They will remember to start discussions in gratitude. They will experience firsthand that it feels better to express than withhold emotions. They will find the bright side of an argument and move forward in love.

PHOTOGRAPHY BY AL WEKELO

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