I have four children and they often come into conflict with each other. (Although, school usually helps, by giving them all a different focus and time away from each other.)
So, I spent the first two weeks of lockdown in a state of constant tension, always knowing that conflict and its associated aggression and tears could be only a whisker away – and that I might have barely a moment’s notice to intervene or prevent it. It was exhausting.
The key came – and this probably sounds awful – when I realised that although my children often come into conflict with each other, their altercations have rarely drawn blood, and have never been the cause of visits to A&E.
(In fact, when I read that during lockdown, A&E admissions due to “sibling-related incidents” had gone up by 150%, I felt almost smug. I’m presuming these are children’s incidents, not adults’…!)
My lovely children have hit, kicked and elbowed each other (all these usually “accidental” in the explanation), have shouted, sometimes extremely loud, slammed doors and thrown toys. They have…
- fallen out of hammocks from being swung too enthusiastically by the child whose turn it is next
- fallen off swings from being pushed too vigorously by the sibling who didn’t get there fast enough
- fallen off tree branches when a sibling jumped hard enough on the branch in question to crack it.
But, thankfully, they have never done lasting damage (except to toys and a couple of trees).
The child on the receiving end generally bursts into tears, and sometimes so do the others, but the tears are always forgotten by the next day. (I suspect this is part of the problem – if they remembered how the tears happened last time, might they be able to avoid a repeat incident??)
None of these things are acceptable and believe me, I work hard to find ways to help them manage situations without losing tempers or using unkind words. But actually, I can’t avoid it all the time. Sometimes they have to make their own way or learn the hard way, and actually, that is not the end of the world.
When I realised this – and forced myself to accept it – I also realised that it was my anxiety about impending conflict that was actually the most damaging thing in the situation.
Because I was in a constant state of tension, whenever there was an argument or incident, I myself snapped. I shouted at the children, reacted angrily, or if I did manage to resolve the argument, I held myself responsible – ‘a decent parent wouldn’t have let that happen’. Either way, I was sucked into the kind of self-reproach which undermined my ability to get on with positive, unconditional parenting.
My habit of constantly expecting disaster and preparing to head it off manifested in another way yesterday, when all the family were out on a bank holiday bike ride. We were cycling along a bridleway, and I noticed some walkers coming the other way. Whilst yelling at the children cycling ahead of me to remember to social distance, I fell off my own bike and sustained both injury and embarrassment. They were keeping their distance anyway.
So many things in life are to do with balance – not just cycling! And sibling conflict is slowly becoming one of my successes of re-balancing. Compassion, justice, discipline, teaching, care, first aid and shrugging my shoulders – all vital components to weave together in my newly developing, less anxious but more effective approach to sibling dynamics.
How have the dynamics with your own children changed during lockdown? Have you found there are more arguments, incidents, etc? What ways have you found to manage those times more effectively?
You would be surprised how many families are going through the same during these challenging times. Our advice is to remember you’re not alone and to be kind to yourself.