“When my littles fight, I stay out of it. I let them work out themselves.”
This approach and reaction to arguing sibs is pretty common. The idea behind it is to not take sides and hope they can resolve things without the parents getting involved.
This seems reasonable. This parent doesn’t want to play favorites and wants to get her kiddos thinking. But before they can work it out alone, they need training in conflict resolution or else Jungle Rules will prevail. The smarter, stronger, or more clever sibling will always win.
A parent can help without being the referee and solving the problem. Rather the parent can turn into the coach and consultant and help guide the process–without controlling it.
Check out this typical sibling scene:
Toddler grabs preschooler’s toy.
Preschooler bonks toddler.
Toddler is hurt and cries.
Rather than resolve the issue for the children or ignore it — train the children for what you want. You want gentle touch and respect to permeate your home.
Relate: “I feel sad (angry, frustrated) when someone takes something of mine too. I remember when you were two and you grabbed my phone.” This removes shame and the child is more ready to receive training. Kids LOVE to hear stories about what they did when they were “little”. This gives them a heart (or empathy) for the younger sibling. Be on the same team with the older one while holding the younger victim.
Retrain: Remind your child of the family expectation to be gentle and respectful. Brainstorm some ideas on what to do when the two-year-old acts like a toddler and takes things. Perhaps suggest a trade. “Let’s trade the truck for the tractor.”
Restore: Next the bopping needs to be addressed so the relationship can be restored. State the family rule. “We use gentle touch in our home. Your brother was hurt and maybe even scared when you hit him. What can you do to make this better?”
Encourage the older one to give the younger one 3 gentle touches. That way the interaction ends on a positive note.
Have the hitter inquire, “Are you OK? I’m going to give you 3 hugs to make it better.” Avoid pushing the sorry at this moment–they are typically not sorry immediately. An insincere sorry only teaches the child to say it just to get it over with.
State: “It’s OK to feel frustrated when Joey grabs your toy. It’s not OK to hit. We use our words and gentle touches.”
When you see a change of heart in the older child, take it to the next step and say, “When we hurt someone we need to ask for forgiveness. And remember if you need help when you feel frustrated, I am always here to help you figure it out. Two-year-olds are learning and we need to help them learn how to ask rather than grab. Let’s work together to help your brother learn this.”
This approach empowers the older one to solve his problem and self regulate. In the process the older child feels understood while developing empathy for the little one. If we don’t train our kids in conflict resolution and problem solving jungle rules will rule the day.
Do not be quickly provoked in your spirit, for anger resides in the lap of fools.