Plan of Attack

So I posted a couple of weeks ago that I can’t handle the sibling interactions up in this joint. And with some suggestions from readers, some ideas from parenting books, and some long hot showers (okay, just one, but still…), I’ve come up with a plan. Well, not so much come up with as cobbled together. On the fly. Okay, I’ve MacGyvered a plan.

1. Kindness gets noticed and rewarded. Every kind word or action, every moment of gentle voices or gentle hands, every shared toy and shared moment garners positive reinforcement. Not only do I point out and thank the perpetrator of kindness, I also add a cotton ball to a mason jar in the kitchen.
A full jars wins a family celebration. Glow stick walks around the neighborhood before bed, a trip to the museum, a gorgeous hike, a trip on the train. Something to celebrate the accumulation of goodness that doesn’t involve treat foods. Because if we gave up chocolate until we were all nice the world would end with my chocolate collection intact. Nobody wants that. So, food-independent celebration of kindness.
Lesson: practice being nice and you’ll have a happier family.

2. Nastiness is shut right the hell down. Talking nasty, teasing, and namecalling are rebuffed with a reminder that we don’t talk that way, that we are a family and have to live together, and that we’re all teaching each other how we want to be treated. The second reminder involves removal from the situation. Any physical violence, threatened or executed, results in removal from the room and removal of any toy involved in the situation.
Tomorrow is a new day and you can have the toy back, but if you practice unkindness, I practice removing you from the situation.
Lesson: practice being nasty and you’ll be alone more. Alone is good for restoring and finding kindness. Come back when you’re ready to contribute not destroy.

3. The direct link between sibling tension and my adrenal glands is being severed. They can disagree and find a solution, and they need to be given the tools to do that. If they fight and call names and hit I can correct their behavior without biochemically equating it with being eaten by a tiger. Their emotional health is tied to my ability to keep cool. For years I couldn’t keep cool if they were terrible to each other because I felt, physically, that meanness portended a terrible end. End to what, I don’t know. I just know I absolutely freaked out each time one of them screamed. Or called the other a name. Or grabbed a toy from the other. I didn’t necessarily yell or overreact or lose it in front of them. But biochemically and physically I freaked out. And holding onto that adrenaline all day was destroying my ability to function.
So now I try really hard to visualize the chemical link between one child’s screams and my adrenaline response; and I pull up the drawbridge to that pathway. I try hard not to let their discomfort with being unable to get their way shortcircuit my patience or logic or love.
Lesson: I am not the repository for their conflict. I can teach, lead, guide, and function better if I stop the adrenaline before it flows.

The first two are much easier than the third. But practicing niceness will make them nicer, shutting down nastiness will make us all function better, and eventually allowing conflict to ram up against crappy solutions before finding the best way forward will not keep making my blood pressure spike. Because twenty years is a long time to have my shoulders up around my ears, my stomach clenched, and my muscles ready to fight or take flight.

So. Three part plan to sibling kindness.

Week Two, the only part that’s working so far is that I’m more detached.


17 thoughts on “Plan of Attack

  1. Hey… being more detached might be a good thing! It’s the path to calmness in life’s insignificant events that can seem huge in the moment! (I have 3 stairstep kids who are teenagers now) Kat

    • My ability to be detached in anything in this life will only benefit my quality of life, career, and personality. I’m holding on too tight, Goose. I’ve lost the edge. Or never had it, really.
      Three teenagers? Holy Guacamle. I bow to your continuing engagement in life. I fear that when mine are teenagers I’ll be drunk and mainlining chocolate and John Cusak movies.

  2. Yes yes yes, I am so in love with #1. Just totally in love. I re=read the previous post and remember feeling like I loved how well you could write about it and that I totally empathized. That nastiness sears my heart. And bugs the crap out of me. Glow sticks and cotton balls. You WILL inherit the Earth or the wind.

    • I want neither Earth nor wind nor fire. I want a day of enjoying my kids without thinking every. single. moment. that it’s going to go south in three, two, one…

      I hope positive reinforcement works. I really hope kindness rewarded begets kindness.

      Because otherwise I’m handing out lollypops for every gentle gesture. And I don’t want to bribe. Unless it works. ;-)

  3. Great plan!

    On the first two getting off to a slow start, don’t sweat it,,, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Give it a bit more time. Adjustments may need to be made some time later but for now give it time. The goal is that you are setting up a standard of behavior that is acceptable. It is simply what is expected (part 1) and enforced (part 2) if needed. This is a relatively new concept for them and they are still working off old habit patterns. What you are doing is the truest sense of discipline. I applaud you for being proactive about the situation. In a few years they will have some reasoning skills, enough to be able to get verbal coaching in resolving disagreements with each other. Until then, it is up to you to hold the standard.

    As for the last one, detached isn’t bad if it helps you deal with it a bit better. Keep doing your plan and eventually it will seem more natural, or at least you will feel comfortable being unaffected.

    I love the rewards you worked out! I just hope the jar isn’t too big. The younger the child, the harder it is to conceptualize future time. If they start becoming interested in the cotton balls then you know it’s biting. Send great thought for your success!


    Since I work in a kindergarten (*cough*), I started giving out badges for achievements. I bought a badge maker online and of course, put stickers on them for various milestones. Don’t mean to brown your banana, but the excitement lasted a whopping week.

    So this week, it’s about punishment. Yeah, I went *there*. You screw it up, you will regret it. Seems to be working, momentarily.

    I think the moral of my story is to change it up. See what sticks, be quick on the draw, don’t let them see you sweat! Praise or punish, it’s what it comes down to. And I agree with you about detachment. I feel that too.

    I have no clue yet how to break up the nonstop pissing contests. They are no-win. I play along, lose, sigh at the nonsense, conclude that the pissers don’t deserve attention from me. Sad. Some people never grow up.
    *passes the chocolate bar and ice cream*

    • Unicorn, I fear my children becoming like your colleagues. They would be lucky to have *you*, but as is you’d be hard pressed to make them a shiny stickery button for anything.

      A button maker. Ha! Making your own flair. That’s some serious glitter power, yo.

  5. This is so very helpful. I start following your plan today. My fear is that I always fail miserably at enforcing number 2 without turning into a monster. To the point that my kids wait for the monster to react, otherwise they they think nothing is wrong. I’ve tried the terrifyingly serious whisper my mom used on us but that gets me nowhere. I shall try to smother the monster in cotton balls!

    • Sorry, but I laughed at that image. I know child development experts swear by the “whisper to get them to listen” technique, but the thought that I could whisper anything is hilarious.

      Good luck! I’ve heard marbles work really well in the jar, but mine need something uninteresting so they don’t pilfer/throw/eat/hide/dump them out. Plus, cotton balls can be stuffed down or fluffed up to make the jar more or less full, depending on your needs. ;-)

  6. Just this past week or so, I’ve had many conversations with my older son about respectfulness. I.e., not doing anything to a person or animal that you don’t want them to do to you. Mostly this is retroactive, so we have a lot of conversations after the action like, “Would you want the cat to scream unexpectedly in your face? No? Then don’t do it to her. Would you like Charlie to pinch your ear? No? Then don’t do it to him.”

    I have found that it’s way easier to yell than to remain calm and discuss this sort of thing. I can only hope it makes some difference in the near future, because it’s obviously not doing anything at the moment. Not sure if he’s ready for cotton balls yet . . .

    • I’ve spent years with the “would you like it if…” and “how would you feel if…” My oldest rolls his eyes and says, “Mom, everyone has different feelings, so what I think doesn’t matter to the cat.” He’s either going to be an attorney or need an attorney some day.

      I simply don’t understand why saying every stinking day, “Uh-oh, that’s not kind. The cat needs gentle. If you’re loud or rough, the cat won’t play with you because he’ll be scared” doesn’t fix things.

      But it doesn’t. See how useless I am on toddler-to-cat dynamics?


  7. Is it detachment, or being objective? Or are they the same? All you can do is guide them, you know, grasshopper.

    Humans are not necessarily peaceful beings, from what I can tell. You are raising humans in a violent world, and siblings sometimes have violent tendencies. I like your three point plan for sanity. You’ve really broken it down to the basics. And gave yourself all of number three, which is important.

    Spring is almost here!

    • My dear JG, thanks as always for the perspective. My friends with two or more children seem much more at peace with the constant eruptions of sibling b.s. and I’m not sure why it makes me so ass-over-tea-kettle crazy.

      Now, I don’t mean to rub it in, but Spring done sprung up in here. And we have warm days and outside time and blossoms on the plum trees.

      Sunshine is what gets me through the days with a modicum of inner peace, and it’s back in full force here.


      Perhaps because there’s only one sun and it has no brother to have nuclear fission spats with…

  8. Naptime, I love a whole lot of what you said here. Love the cotton balls, love the glow stick walks, love your honesty, and love the “nastiness is shut right the hell down” and the “alone is for restoring and finding kindness.” I too respond to screaming kids with a chemical response. My husband is able to shrug off or shut out the noise in a way that I am not able to do. He will continue to chat or tell his story while the TV is blaring, the kids are screaming, and something on the stove is boiling over. It is INSANE. I, on the other hand, feel like I’ve been cast into no-man’s land to become cannon fodder at Gallipoli. I had to explain to my husband that even if he is able to slough off all the crazy, I cannot. I had to describe my physical reaction and say that, even if he did not understand it, I needed him to at least acknowledge it and help me in those situations by trying to mitigate at least one of the things going on. Anyway, what I’m saying is, I get you. I understand what you are saying and I applaud your plan to help yourself and your kidlets.

  9. Oh the sibling love, rivalry, craziness! My boys are amazing with each other… sometimes. I see them stick up for each other when push comes to shove. But leave them alone in a room on a full moon and there will be hell to pay. I love your ideas and agree that the 3rd is by far the most challenging but is the one I need to work on the most. I wish you the utmost luck on this journey. Your boys will be all the better for your efforts.

    • May we all be the better for our efforts, collectively and individually.

      I just want them to be the best people they can be, without distorting who they naturally are by my over- or under-parenting.

      Never leave brothers alone in a room seems to be the only thing I can come up with.

      Bodes well, dontcha think? ;-)

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