Everyday life with kids can be tricky, no matter what age they are. Sometimes, kids don’t get along, and some may seem to get along rarely, if ever. This can take a toll on the rest of the family, especially when a major life change is occurring, like a divorce. When the kids just seem to constantly be at each other’s throats, you need a plan that will help to bring peace back to your world. Here are some ideas that might help.
1. Everyone Loses It Sometimes
Modelling appropriate behavior is very important. When you see yourself facing a conflict, think about how you will respond. This can be very difficult if you are experiencing conflict in your marriage or are in a difficult divorce already. You may feel some very negative feelings toward your spouse. In fact, you likely do. But, it’s up to you to choose when and how to let those negative feelings out. When your kids see the way you deal with conflict and difficult situations, they often mimic that behavior themselves. That’s not to say that a toddler will have the self-control to ask nicely for his toy when it was snatched away by a sibling. But, it may help the teen, tween or even elementary school-aged child choose to keep a level head when they may otherwise have not. The way you manage your anger is often the way your child will manage anger, too.
2. Establish Rules, and Stick to Them
Kids respond to rules. Set some ground rules about how the home will function and how everyone will treat each other. When there are no rules, kids take advantage of the lack of boundaries and are more inclined to see just how much they can get away with. Let kids know what your expectations are and that everyone in your home deserves to be treated with respect. It’s okay to let the kids work things out, even if you think you can take care of the conflict more quickly. Some of the ground rules could include things like everyone gets to say what’s bothering them, or only one person speaks at a time. It may seem simplistic, but if it is identified, then it is enforceable. If you see an issue persisting, talk to the kids about it and let them have a hand in determining what the boundaries should be.
3. Use Words
For young children whose language skills are not yet developed, they may only be able to physical responses to show how frustrated or upset they are with a situation or another person. Teach children that using words to describe how they are feeling is important, and so is talking things out. Of course, this is another opportunity for you to be a stellar role model! Speak calmly and rationally, even if you need to give information that they don’t want to hear. Let them know that you expect the same of them. It’s normal for siblings to have moments of conflict, but having fewer of them or less dramatic ones is a fair goal.
4. Keep the Family Engaged
Sometimes, kids living together in the home can take out their outside frustrations on each other. For example, if Sally was bullied at school, she may have felt victimized and powerless. When she gets home, she might take out her frustration on her little brother. Author Barbara Sorenson suggests that “parents head off potential problems by encouraging children to talk about their friends and what activities they are engaged in each day.” Finding time to sit down and have these types of conversations doesn’t have to be a formal, drawn-out affair. Have a chat while standing in line at the library, on the walk home from school, or on the way to the ball field if you don’t have the luxury of free time or sit-down dinners together.
5. Mark the Boundaries If You Must
Depending on the age of the kids, marking clear boundaries may help them keep conflict at bay. Give everyone a space – however small it may be – that is their own that they can expect will be safe from sibling invaders. Whether that is a bedroom, corner of the family room, or even just a comfy chair in the living room – make it a safe zone. One mom I know used blue painter’s tape to mark the center of the bathroom vanity to keep brother and sister from invading each other’s counter space. It worked – for them. In another family, a dad called a truce between the hours of 6 pm and 8 pm. Usually, by 6 pm, everyone’s frustrations were at a boiling point; but, when the clock struck 6, everyone settled down. Then, by the time 8 pm rolled around, no one remembered that they were at odds and settled into a peaceful bedtime routine. Try something. Keep it if it works; scrap it if it doesn’t.
Conflict is a Mixed Blessing
Know that conflict between siblings can be a great way for them to learn important life skills like negotiation, patience, empathy, and problem-solving skills. We would be hard-pressed to find a set of siblings who got along perfectly all the time. It’s natural for there to be some discord, but it is important for you to treat each sibling fairly and make sure they know that they are being heard. That can be hard when you may be at your own wit’s end trying to deal with your divorce or when facing the breakdown of your marriage and what to do about it. Keeping your principles in check during this challenging time is going to be hard, but it will be worth it.
About Findling Law
I have been exclusively practicing divorce and family law in Michigan since 19XX. The attorneys at Findling Law all share the core value of practicing law to help people navigate change in their lives, without compromising principles. We specialize in high socio-economic, high-profile and high-conflict cases, while also working with clients of all backgrounds. We recognize that the most important aspect of the practice of law is the application of the law to your specific circumstances.
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