"MMmmooooooooommmmmm!" Please insert your own version of the whining sound that goes with that one. I remember a time, long ago, when I longed to hear them call me "Mama" or "Mommy." So sweet! Now, it sometimes makes me want to run into the closet and hide beneath the rack of pants. I'd run to the bathroom and lock the door, but they follow me there anyway and know where the key is to unlock it, so it is a useless destination. What is it about that version of "Mom" that makes me wish they never learned to talk? Arguing, bickering, fighting - call it whatever you want, but it is conflict.
I was raised as an only child. I never had anyone to argue with - except my mother...when I was a teenager...which is what all self-respecting teenage girls do...which also terrifies me about my rapidly approaching future with S. I never experienced the typical sibling conflict that I have heard so much about, thus I never learned how to resolve those conflicts. I was also not prepared for the inevitable conflict between my girls and how it would sound like fingernails on a chalkboard to me and cause levels of anxiety that should be reserved for bungee jumping or shark diving.
"Mooooooommmmm! K said she would dance and sing with me and now she won't do it because she says she doesn't want to. It's not fair; I played Barbies with her and I didn't want to."
"I don't want to do dancing. I want to play Barbies. S always wants to do what she wants to do. I need some alone time." "Alone time" is code for "I just don't want to do what S wants to do, so rather than find a compromise, I'm going to pretend that it's all just too much and I need to be alone for a bit."
Seriously? I've seen and heard these arguments escalate and sometimes it is beyond my ability to understand why there is a need to fight over what to play. Here are the strategies I have tried:
1. Leave them alone to work it out. Yes, I think that is supposed to be the thing to do, according to most of the books. In the meantime, I'm just cringing at the sound of it. I don't like conflict and since I don't have a lot of experience with it, it just makes me uncomfortable. Hmmmm...my problem, not theirs.
2. Leave them alone to work it out until I can't stand it anymore, then tell them in a raised voice that it is miserable to listen to them and they need to find a way to work it out or they are both going to have to go to their own rooms. Hmmmm....my problem because I couldn't follow through on #1 and because having them play separately means I will now be asked to become a playmate for someone and sometimes it is better if they just entertain themselves.
3. When it comes to play time conflicts, we've also tried the taking turns approach. S gets to choose an activity and they play for a predetermined amount of time then K gets a turn and they play for the same amount of time. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn't. If both are still wanting to dig their heels in for their own activities, this is not a compromise that works. It seems reasonable to me, but then again, I never had the chance to fight with a sibling, so who knows?
4. Talk to them separately. This is where the differences between the two become apparent. S is more mature, obviously. She's more savvy with her words and she's clever enough to try and manipulate the situation. My discussions with her have to revolve around the core values in our house - treating each other with respect, being kind, finding compromise. She can truly understand looking at something from another point of view, whether she likes it or not. Compromise is a hard one, though, and I recently realized that I needed to teach her how to compromise. She can really dig her heels in sometimes and getting her to budge is a challenge. Can't imagine where she gets that from...;-). I had to explain that in situations like this, you have to keep considering different ideas so that you can find a solution that works for both of you. What about a board game? What about playing on the Wii? What about roller skating or riding bikes? The options are practically endless, if she would just consider letting go of her first choice.
Teaching K how to muddle through these conflicts is more complicated. She is 2 years younger and with her extra-special qualities, she doesn't have the same savvy with her words, nor the same ability to sympathize with another point of view. She is only just beginning to become strategic and manipulative. I suppose that should make me happy, as it is another indicator of her forward progress, but I sure do wish we could pick and choose those milestones. K responds best to concrete rules and expectations. However, conflicts, like so many other areas of life, don't always follow rules. I can tell her the same things that I tell S, but the approach has to be so much different. We have to role play, I have to have her explain things back to me to make sure she understood what we are talking about. We talk about feelings and being kind and not being selfish. What is funny is that in most other areas of her life, she is unfailingly kind and giving. I have to clearly identify for her what words she said that created or added to the conflict and then we have to think of some different words for her to use next time.
I don't think that the sibling conflicts in our house are much different than those in every other house with more than one child. My challenge is always to find the balance so both of them learn conflict resolution in the ways that work for them. Sometimes, I wish we could take a cookie cutter approach to parenting -just do everything exactly the same for both of them all the time. Since that simply won't work and I decided a long time ago that it is far more peaceful for all of us if we raise them as the individuals that they are. Maybe I should just invest in a good set of earplugs and stick to strategy #1.