02 Apr

Sibling Wars: How to Negotiate Peace

Sibling Wars

Declaration of War

If you have more than one child, you will inevitably have sibling wars. In fact, when you brought Number Two home from the hospital, you entered the battlefield, because your Number One will at some point feel like you prefer the baby over her. In fact, if you were happy with her, why did you go out and get a new, younger model? Even kids who absolutely love their new brother or sister will feel doubtful about their place in the family at some point.

Sometimes clashes occur because there are personality differences. One child likes quiet and the other wants to create havoc in the house. They want different things because they are different ages, or because they are the same age. And sometimes, just like their parents, kids are just having a bad day.

Whatever the reason, war is bound to erupt and disturb your domestic tranquility.

So what’s a parent to do?

I raised five “only children,” so I’ve developed some tips that seem to work for most people. Here are my top five.

Teach peaceful communication.

Kids aren’t Chatty Cathies, preprogrammed to say the right things. When conflicts arise, so do emotions. We often try to mediate by reminding them to “use their words.” But which words? In the heat of the moment, kids just can’t call up rational language, because they are not feeling rational. So it seems like we’re always telling them what the limits are, over and over. And guess what? It eventually works!

Teaching peaceful communication takes time and repetition. Develop a script and stick to it, even when it doesn’t seem to be working. Teaching kids to interact appropriately can be a simple matter, really. Try this three-step method.

Acknowledge feelings and wants. “You wanted your sister to stop yelling at you so you hit her.”

Set limit. “No hitting. Ever. Hitting hurts.”

Offer alternative. “Tell you sister, ‘Don’t yell at me.'”

Help children stand up for themselves.

If you constantly come to their aid when arguments arise—especially if you tend to take one child’s side more often than the other—you’re simply asking for the behavior to continue. Just because one is older doesn’t mean she should have to take abuse from her younger sibling. Instead of rescuing them, teach them how to stand up for themselves.

Memaw: Liam, you seem upset. What do you need to tell your sister?

Liam: She keeps yelling at me. I don’t like that!

Memaw: Remy, Liam doesn’t like it when you yell at him. Can you stop, please? Do I need to help you find a way to speak quietly?

Allowing each child to express his or her needs and backing them up when necessary speaks volumes to them about how much you believe they are competent and can handle the situation on their own.

There’s a better way to share.

When you force sharing, you are actually perpetuation unhealthy competition. Your child learns that if she makes enough noise, she’ll get what she wants even if someone else has it. They also learn that you are in charge of things and you arbitrarily choose who gets what when, usually based on who is making the most noise. Instead, try using this technique.

When a child picks up a toy, it’s his until he chooses to put it down, or until some specified time (like meal time). He may choose to give it to his sibling, but he doesn’t have to. If he puts it down, the other child must ask, “Are you through with your turn?” Letting the children self-regulate teaches valuable lessons. They learn that everybody eventually gets a turn, even if they have to wait. They know that crying is okay, but it won’t change the rules. When they decided to share, they feel good about themselves and each other.

There’s no comparison.

Comparing siblings to each other (or to other children) is a sure-fire way to start war. “Look at how well your brother is eating his dinner” is not going to endear him to his sister. Even making positive comparisons is not a good idea. “I like the way you always remember to say please and thank you. Now if only your brother would, too!” conveys the idea that she is the “good child” and he is the “bad child.” Since kids often think in black and white terms, she will think that she is loved more because she is good and therefore has a vested interest in making sure he remains the “bad child.” Praise each child individually without comparing them to anyone else. “You are so diligent about doing your homework. I appreciate that!”

Daily thanksgiving.

If you make kindness and generosity the norm in your home, kids will learn to speak and act that way toward each other. In Louisa May Alcott’s book Little Men, Jo Marsh kept a journal where she wrote about the children on a daily basis. Keeping a journal where you write down acts of kindness or generosity from your kids makes for happy reading at the end of the day or perhaps once a week after dinner. Hearing how they both gave and received  promotes happiness and feeling good about doing good.

Love each one best.

If your daughter knows she couldn’t be better loved, she won’t be worried that you love her brother more. If he knows that he will have special time with you, he won’t be jealous when you also have special time with her. Laugh with each child, deeply and fully from the belly. Guidance instead of force will nearly always garner cooperation. Be empathetic so they feel safe sharing their emotions. Make sure they realize that love is a bottomless well. You will never run out of love because you gave so much to a sibling that there’s none left for her.

These things are great ideas for ending the sibling wars and declaring peace. No one needs to live in hostile territory!

27 Feb

The Sticker Chart — What Are We Teaching Our Kids?

sticker chart

America loves the sticker chart.

Google “sticker chart,”  “reward chart,” and “chore chart” and it will return over a million hits. Pinterest searches bring up pin after pin of different charts and rewards that parents have tried to get their children to comply with rules of good behavior. Amazon has more than a thousand products for sale that use the same motivation.  Proponents of the sticker system swear by it, saying that it prevents power struggles over things like brushing teeth, doing homework, or going to bed on time.

And in the short term, it works.

But what of the long term? Reward systems, like the sticker chart, do work—too well, in fact. The powerful psychological effects of rewarding good behavior can have significantly long-term negative consequences to the child trained by them. Children’s mindsets can be molded by the reward for good behavior system that reaches beyond the immediate behavior to affect relationships as well.

It’s a common complaint among parents that their children eventually want to be rewarded for everything, and that they won’t cooperate without the promise of a reward. One mother said that her son refused to help his brother clean up a spill because there was nothing in it for him. Eventually, even rewards stop working. Especially with older kids, negotiating for bigger rewards becomes common.

Erica Reischer, a clinical psychologist and parent educator, calls this phenomenon in which a family’s system of rewards becomes pervasive, a “reward economy.” Children in these situations learn to exchange desirable behavior for rewards, and finally adhere to a transactional model for good behavior. They refuse to offer good behavior without a reward.

What’s the motivation?

Children who expect a reward for good behavior often have their intrinsic motivation undermined by the very rewards that are offered for that behavior. In cases where children are offered stars on a sticker chart not only for tasks like cleaning their rooms, but also for pro-social behavior, the results can be very bad. Things like sharing their things, cooperating with others, or helping should be things that children want to do because it is the right thing to do. Studies show that offering children rewards for pro-social behavior can lessen their desire to be helpful and caring.

According to Erica Reischer, “Insights from behavioral economics help explain this effect. From that perspective, the problematic attitude of children raised in a reward economy—“What’s in it for me?”—is a predictable response to the collision of social norms (the invisible forces that shape how humans act) with market norms (a system of payments, debts, contracts, and customers).”

In other words, children respond to requests for proper behavior by expecting rewards. They want to be “paid” for everything instead of integrating themselves into the family social norms. Unfortunately, the market norm mentality can also affect relationships.

Duke University professor Dan Ariely, who has written a book called Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions, questions the quality of relationships based on transactions. “If you created a relationship [with your kids] that is very transactional, what do you expect when everyone gets older?” Ariely said. “I’m not saying that giving kids a sticker is going to make them send their parents to assisted living, but if you think about the idea, it’s a step in that direction.”


27 Feb

How to Strengthen Your Child’s Listening Skills

listening skills

How important are listening skills?

You know how frustrating it is to have to say something two or three (or more) times before your child will listen to you. And half the time, you don’t know if she’s just ignoring you or isn’t actually hearing what you say.

Let’s change that.

Listening is a skill that is among the most important to a successful life. When your child is actively listening, she is able to gather information, store that information, analyze it, and eventually retrieve it. She’ll have stronger communication skills, enabling her to ask for clarification, and share ideas and thoughts. When she listens to others, they will find her more empathetic, able to handle conflict better, and find common ground among her peers. And her interpersonal relationships will improve.

Ways to improve listening skills

Playing sound games is a wonderful way to build good listening skills. From the time your child is an infant, reciting nursery rhymes and simple songs will help her learn to listen. Take her on a “sound walk,” and encourage her to listen to sounds she can hear as well as looking at things she can see. Listen first, then try to find the source of the sound.

“I Spy” and “Twenty Questions” are both games that encourage listening, as is “Simon Says” for the younger ones. In all three games, children have to listen closely to extract the information they need to formulate an appropriate response.

Kids imitate adults. Your listening skills must be up to par if you expect your child’s to improve. Practice really listening when your child talks to you, and model the behavior you hope to see.

Here are my top ten techniques to help you talk so your child will listen.

  1. Use your child’s name. You like to hear your own name; we all do. So does your child. Start any conversation with your child’s name and gain brownie points right off the bat. Repeat her name until she looks at you or otherwise acknowledges that she is paying attention. Making eye contact is the best way to know she is listening.
  2. Speak positively. Try to avoid saying “no” and “don’t” as much as possible. Unless there’s a really good reason for saying no, try to say yes. Keep ridiculing and shaming words out of your vocabulary. Use a positive tone, encouraging and affirming. Watch your self-talk, too, as kids are great imitators. If you have a low self-esteem, chances are your child will, too.
  3. Volume is great. Yelling is not. Use volume appropriately. When your child yells at you, yelling back will only escalate the problem. Try whispering instead.
  4. Offer alternatives. Kids cooperate better when they have alternatives to choose from. Use “when…then” statements to help them cooperate. “When you have changed your clothes from school, then you can play outside. Would you like a snack first or after you’ve changed your clothes?”
  5. Get down at their level. Making eye contact is best done on the same level as the child. Adults are big and intimidating, so getting down to the child’s level makes it easier for him to listen. Be sure when it’s your turn to listen that you maintain eye contact and are quiet while the child talks.
  6. Eliminate distractions. Turn off the computer and silence the phone. Pause the movie or turn off the TV. Do these things when your child wants to talk to you, not just when you want to talk to him. If you simply cannot break from what you’re doing, politely tell the child that you will give him your undivided attention in (be specific) minutes.
  7. Ask open-ended questions. Your child will learn to think out responses if your requests for information are open-ended (can’t be answered with “yes” or “no”). For instance, instead of saying “Did you have a good day today?” try asking “What did you learn in school today?” Then show interest in the answer. Respond by rephrasing their answer or seeking more information. “You did? I bet that was fun. How did you feel about it?”
  8. Give warning notice. No one likes to have what they’re engrossed in interrupted. Adults don’t and neither do children. When it is nearing time to change activities or leave, give your child some notice. “Andy, we are going to leave in 10 minutes. Start saying goodbye to your friends.”
  9. Don’t interrupt. It is rude to interrupt anyone, including your child. Be patient as your little one tries to communicate with you. Don’t finish sentences or show impatience with them as they try to find the right words to convey thoughts.
  10. Prioritize communication with your kids. The more you communicate with your kids, the more they will communicate back. Your interactions with them sets the stage for their interactions with others. Good communications with parents develops confidence, self-esteem and cooperation with others. It is also the cornerstone for good relationships.

Here’s a wonderful post from Happily Evermom on getting your child to listen, and one from The Child Development Institute that is also useful.