It seems that most people are finding that initially when "lockdown" hit, their kids seemed to be getting on pretty well. It was almost surreal how well the kids seemed to play together. But as the weeks go on, tempers are wearing thin. Initially everyone was just coping and trying to make the most of it. For kids, staying at home felt a bit like a holiday. Not to down play the stress that they were under, but for most kids they are home with their siblings during the holidays anyway so they sort of fell into that routine. As the "holiday" continues the monotony and constant contact with their siblings is exhausting. You also have age differences and diverse interests. An older sibling can only play games below their age level for so long. TV shows don't suit everyone, games aren't suited to all age groups, there has now become a "best" swing to go on (even though the swings are EXACTLY the same) and it goes on and on.
So as conflict is bound to happen when we are spending more time together. How to we teach out kids conflict resolution skills?
1. It is not your job to stop conflict:
It is so tempting when kids start to fight to just take away what they were fighting over just to end the conflict. But when we take over, the only thing our kids learn is that someone will stop the conflict for them. If you put yourself in the position of fixing everything, your kids will constantly come to you, missing opportunities to learn to work things out on their own. Conflict is normal and it really is okay if it is dealt with well. So rather than stopping the conflict we need to teach our kids through it.
2. We still need to keep everyone safe:
While I'm suggesting we take a step back and let our kids learn to solve their conflicts themselves, this does not mean that there are no rules. We can't just let them get into an all out brawl or name calling. Remember, the part of your brain that you need to think logically doesn't work when emotions are too high. So as parents we need to read the signs and try to facilitate early. Says something like, "sounds like you guys don't agree, what do you think you can do?" Try as much as you can to have them come up with ideas and check with the other child to see if that would work. If they can't come up with anything, it is okay for you to suggest something but put it back on them to choose, be clear you aren't solving it for them.
If tempers are running too high it is fine to take a break but come back to the situation when they are calmer. Give them some time apart and then bring them back and ask "what did you decide, how can we make things work?"
3. Identify the problem
The start of conflict resolution whether you are a child or an adult, is to identify the problem. Young children will need you to say it for them, "it looks like you both want that swing". Try and get them to understand how the other person feels. Have each person say what is upsetting them, if they are too young or can't express it, label it for them, "you are frustrated that they got on the swing before you". When they know what the problem really is and how everyone feels they will have a better chance at brainstorming a solution.
4. Problem Solving
One great strategy that works with kids, age three and older, is to give them five minutes to conduct their own “meeting” to figure out a plan for how they can solve the problem. Kids respond well to be given responsibility and independence. However explain that you won't be far away and you are able to help if they need you. After they have had a "meeting", they present their solution to you. If it’s acceptable, they can go and continue playing to test if it worked. The idea of this strategy is that in order to keep playing together or have access to a desired toy, they need to work together.
When they come up with an idea they all have to agree on it. If it is something that you don't think is fair or you don't think will work, then talk them through it, "so if you do that, how will your brother feel?", "if you do that, what do you think will happen next?"
5. Plan ahead
It is always a good idea to practice conflict resolution before it happens. If you children often fight in a particular game, go through some ideas beforehand. Do the "what if's", "what will you do if you both want the same sort of Lego piece?" Make them have a plan first and let them see that when they can't resolve the conflict, it means they won't be having fun. Not that you have to threaten punishment, just that the game will be over.
Sometimes it good to have some "go to" ideas. If you have talk to your children about conflict many times (and who hasn't?) then there are bound to be some themes. Usually it will be turn taking or sharing that is the trigger. Talk to your children about things that have worked before and write them down. You could put this up somewhere that is easy to see, such as a play room or living room. That way, if the same sort of conflicts arise they know what works and they don't feel that they have to start from scratch to come up with an idea.
In the end, remember that the sibling relationship is the testing ground for building all sorts of skills for getting along with others: how to share, take turns, cope with jealousy, build empathy, learn to work together and resolve problems. So, don’t fear the conflicts that arise among your children. When you position yourself as a facilitator of this process, versus a solver of all problems, it can reduce conflict and give them skills for life.