“Stop touching me!!”
“You stop touching me!!”
“Ugh, I hate you!!”
“Just leave me ALONE!!”
Doors slam and I hear my youngest son wailing upstairs.
With my hands in my head, I think to myself…”I just can’t take this anymore.”
My boys have been fighting non-stop over the past few weeks.
I have no idea what’s going on, but it’s getting to the point that I can’t leave them alone for a minute before they start yelling and hitting each other.
When they are getting along, the family is fun, more enjoyable and just all around happier. But lately, it seems like those days are happening less and less.
These two are at each other’s throats every day.
Things are at a boiling point.
As I stand there I hear them scream “I hate you!” “You have to stop hurting me!” “You’re so mean to me!” “You can’t tell me what to do anymore!”
What do I do…
I could charge into that room and lay down the law.
I could force apologies and send them to their rooms alone.
I could try to work out what happened and help them solve their problem.
The truth is that nothing has been working lately.
I pause and listen closer. Underneath their vicious words, deep down inside, I hear my kid’s hurting.
This is more than just one little squabble, there’s a profound and deep wound in my children’s relationship.
My kids don’t need punishment and discipline to solve this. What they need is help.
It’s time for a sibling therapy session
I gather my thoughts and trudge upstairs. I don’t exactly how this will go, but I have to try something.
I kneel down next to my youngest who’s crying and screaming outside his brother’s room and give him a hug.
He nestles his tear-stained face into my neck and says “Mama, I’m just so mad.”
“I know baby, I know. I can see that you’re super mad right now and we’re going to discuss this. Can you sit on the couch for a second while I go get your brother?”
I walk into his brother’s room and great him with a hug too. I help him calm down and then hand in hand we walk over the couch too.
Get a free step-by-step guide of this process at the end of the post.
Getting the kids calm is important. When they are flooded by emotions, they won’t be able to have a rational conversation, and that’s what we need right now.
Find ways to help a child calm down here –> How To Respond When Your Child is Raging Mad
Once everyone is calm and relaxed on the couch with me, I clearly explain what I’ve been noticing.
Reflect what’s been happening
“I’ve been noticing lately that you guys have had a really hard time getting along. You both seem so mad at each other and you guys are arguing a lot.”
I check for clarification. “Are you noticing that too?”
They both nod their heads.
“Okay, I’m glad we are seeing the same things. Now, I can tell that neither one of you are very happy with one another and I think that makes you sad.”
Both of their heads are nodding.
“Let’s work this out then.”
Give each child time to talk about what makes them angry
“Now J, I’d like for you to tell your brother what he does that makes you angry. E, I’d like for you to just listen and hear what your brother says, and you’ll get a turn in just a minute.”
- Pro tip- Don’t interrupt your child. Give them the time to talk about things from their perspective (even if it’s different than what you’re noticing), this is the time for them to get stuff off their chest and to talk about their experiences. This is not the time for teaching or parenting techniques.
I give J time to talk and then I ask E to repeat back his brother’s concerns so that J knows that E’s been listening.
Then I give E time to talk about what makes him angry and ask J to repeat back.
When both boys are done, I provide a summary for them. “J it sounds like you don’t like it when your brother hurts you, and E you don’t like it when your brother tells you what to do and doesn’t let you say any of your ideas.”
Then I check to make sure both boys understand each other.
- Pro tip – This is a good time to check for clarification and to ask questions if you don’t quite understand what your child is feeling/saying. Again, this is not the time for discipline.
“Now E, J said he doesn’t like it when you hurt him when you get mad. Can you tell us, what can you instead of hitting? J can you let E know what he can do instead?”
After a discussion and problem solving, we move onto E’s concerns.
“Now J, E said he doesn’t like it when you tell him what to do and don’t listen to his ideas, can you tell J what you’d like for him to do instead? J what can you do so that your brother feels heard?”
- Pro tip – Stick with the “what can you do instead” phrase and focus on how to get his needs met. As an example, instead of saying “don’t hit,” he needs to come up with solutions for when he does get angry, like going into his room, hitting a pillow, or by saying “I don’t’ like that!”
After the three of us have problem-solved each child is armed with solutions and ideas for when these issues pop up.
Once each child feels heard and has more tools in their toolbox, it’s time to work on building a stronger connection.
“Okay J, now I’d like for you to tell me 3 things that you like or appreciate about your brother.”
- Pro tip – Again, let your child speak uninterrupted.
Then we give E a chance to say a few things he likes and appreciates about his brother.
This helps build connection because it’s important for the boys to hear how their sibling sees them in a positive light.
Continuing to Build A Strong Sibling Relationship
Over the next weeks, things took a drastic turn.
There was less fighting, less tears, and way less screaming.
For a few weeks after our conversation, I needed to remind them from time to time about their brother’s concerns. “Remember J, E likes it when you listen to his ideas.” “E, I can tell you’re mad, but remember that your brother doesn’t like it when you hurt him, can you tell him why you’re mad?”
It takes practice to use the tools they learned in our sibling session, and sometimes they just needed a little reminder about their brother’s concerns.
But, from that afternoon on my boy’s relationship has been so much better.
So much so, that every afternoon they drop their backpacks, head straight upstairs, and play together for hours.
They are still brothers and sometimes they do bicker, but overall, our house is calmer and happier.
All because the boys each felt heard, validated, and given tools they needed.
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Hi there! I love this article and I am keen to try it with my 3 girls. 4, 6,8 years old. Our main issue is the youngest acting out when she feels left out. The older 2 are really starting to resent her. Would you recommend all three talking at the same time or do it in pairs?
Honestly, I’d try it with all 3 first. Your youngest is still pretty small, so don’t be surprised if she’s a bit distracted during the conversation. Just check to make sure she’s listening now and again and can repeat what others are saying in the group.