Being a mom of three isn’t easy. It’s a challenge stretching yourself to meet the needs of multiple children, especially when you’re outnumbered. My three are pretty close in age. I have an 8-year-old son, a 6-year-old daughter and a soon to be 5-year-old son.
My daughter, being the middle child and the only girl, is often cast in the role of peacemaker, torn between the brothers she loves. She’s a born people pleaser. My sons, however, fight. All the time. Sometimes with words, but mostly their bodies, and it is my never-ending struggle, trying to figure out how or when to intervene.
I admit I’m a fairly hands-off parent. I would much rather they figure out some conflict resolution on their own. But I’m also a mama bear and I don’t want either of my sons actually getting injured. So what’s a mom to do when she wants her sons to bond, but also wants them to live to tell the tale?
Maybe you have daughters with this same struggle. It’s not entirely a gender based phenomenon. While I’m (obviously) still figuring out this brotherhood thing, there are a few things I’ve picked up that might help your family, too.
Use Your Words, and Be Specific!
As parents, we tell our kids “use your words” a lot. Probably too much, because it seems like it becomes meaningless after a couple million iterations. When mine were toddlers, it did help, but I find as they grow older, it’s just not enough. It helps the one who is offended define exactly what’s bothering him (which sometimes, in and of itself helps de-escalate the situation), and tells the offender, specifically, what it is he needs to stop doing.
I have to add, that over half the time, whatever it is that Kid B did to annoy Kid A, Kid A thought was hilarious 5 minutes ago. So it’s not always obvious to Kid B that his behavior isn’t acceptable. Which is part of why being specific helps.
Next, I want to try having my kids add an alternative at the end, for example “Stop screaming, brother! Talk to me quietly instead.” “Stop standing in front of the TV! Please sit down.” On one hand, I know it seems like it’s pushing parenting things off onto kids, but conflict resolution skills are a good thing to learn early!
I also tell my kids that if whatever they are doing is not working, get a grown-up (mom, dad, teachers, day care workers, etc.) before they also start yelling and hitting. But they can, and usually should, try to resolve it on their own first.
Give Them Permission to Walk Away
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to tell one of my children that they don’t have to sit there and let another kid hurt, bother, or just plain annoy them. They have the power to walk away.
Initially this came up when I had my kids in one of those great multi-kid buggies (or mini-buses), where two kids sit up high, facing one that is in the typical buggy seat. My youngest loved kicking his older siblings. The older siblings were allowed to hop down (they just had to let me know to stop the buggy first), but often they would just sit there. (Meanwhile I’m doing my best to stop the youngest from kicking, but my best is often not good enough, apparently). So I told them, “You two have the freedom to get down and walk. Your little brother doesn’t. If he’s bothering you, walk away.”
This carries over at home, too. There’s space enough for everyone – sometimes moving away is the best option.
Find Activities Both Enjoy
This is the hardest one for me. My oldest loves being outside, riding his bike, playing basketball, Pokémon, and a host of other activities which he’s made incredibly clear he has no desire sharing with his little brother. Meanwhile, little brother is so often left out he’s learned to enjoy playing on his own, building things, and discovering new games on his tablet. But he does yearn to play with his older brother.
Finding things they both want to do isn’t easy. For Christmas, we stocked up on family games. While this has helped a little, all the games require parental supervision, and sometimes they need to be able to play together while I’m preparing dinner or cleaning up. The best toy that has actually worked for us is Laser Tag. The two brothers love chasing and laser shooting each other. In warmer weather, hiking has been a wonderful activity. My oldest loves helping his little brother climb rocks and navigate trails. Finding some common ground has been a big help.