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.