Sibling Rivalry and The Power of Parents to Diffuse It Through Patience and Vision

Patience is natural to those who trust. ~ Course in Miracles

I have this quote on my bathroom wall. This morning when I saw it after the kids had left for school, I reflected on how much my dramatic increase in patience over the last decade, has improved my parenting and family life. Instead of being reactive and adding to the family drama, I am increasingly patient and calm. That has made all the difference.

One great example of my patience and faith that we will work things out, is my reaction when the kids argue. Whereas before when they bickered, I’d get very worked up and want an instant solution, now I can sit back and think about the situation more objectively. I don’t get sucked in nearly as often to the belief that I need to resolve the problem immediately. That is so wonderful because when I do try to effect an immediate solution, that often only adds a lot of tension into an already tense environment.

What happened this morning was a great example. I entered the kitchen to hear some name calling. My son was upset and looked hurt, and my daughter angry. I’ve been working on mirroring their emotions more, (see blog post on Jennifer Kolari’s excellent new book Connected Parenting ) but in the moment, I didn’t see what I could do to help the situation. Part of the problem was I had two upset kids, and so I didn’t even know which one to start with!

Sam left the kitchen, still upset. Lauren started reiterating some of the names that Sam has called her. Then she was equally hurt and upset. Haven’t we all done that at some point, whipped ourselves into a frenzy by remembering past hurts? She stormed off too, leaving me alone.

In the past, at this point I would have been equally upset. I used to imagine bonking their heads together because of my frustration. Instead, I felt calm, knowing that I could help the kids get through this issue. From this calm, patient place, I went to talk to Sam. He was the calmest and so seemed the logical one to start with.

Clearly, Rob and I need to help him to see his contribution to the sibling rivalry that he was embroiled in this morning. At the moment, Sam is taking the typical stance of warring parties; he feels his pride can’t let her name-calling go undefended. Although he didn’t retaliate this morning, I have no doubt that left to his own devices, he will retaliate later.

That’s where my increasing patience comes in. At 8 a.m. with the school bell deadline looming, I didn’t have time to go into the issue further. We’ve done lots of lecturing with the kids in the past that hasn’t worked, even when Rob and I passionately deliver the lecture. Clearly, in that moment what was within my power was

to diffuse the situation to some degree,
congratulate both of them on not escalating further (no one yelled, nor said worse names)
give them the message both verbally and non-verbally that we would get through this experience.
Although I couldn’t change the fact that hurtful words were said, it was huge that the kids were able to leave for school relatively calm and ready for their day. I’d love to say that it was the first time that hurtful words were exchanged between them, but it wasn’t. There truly was no urgency, even though this is a serious and important issue. Adding urgency, or impatience, would only have pushed our goal further away. We value teaching the kids to respectfully disagree, and that is not something that they will learn instantly.

I wish I’d learned this when the kids first started to bicker and fight as toddlers. The truth is that my reaction lead to a much bigger problem than we originally started out with. However, I am also much more patient with myself now too. If I had known better, I would have done better. Change can be a slow process, that is speeded up by patience, vision and belief. I am profoundly grateful to have found those things while my kids are still young. It is truly never too late.

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