My middle two children have a love-hate relationship. One moment they can be the best of friends, and the next, the greatest of enemies. ("Fickle" is the word that often springs to mind.) Their relationship blows hot and cold and definitely keeps me on my toes.
For the most part, I'm sad to say, the fickleness comes from my daughter. She needs her 'down-time' in order to recharge her batteries (just like her mother - although I hope I'm not in any way fickle!) Yet she doesn't fully understand this need, and so takes the overwhelm out on her brother - a lot. (My guess is that some of this hot/cold relationship is related to birth order, but for the sake of this post, I'm not going to get over-analytical).
While I know that sibling rivalry is a part of growing up, it still pains me to see. Yes, I know children get tired. I know they have bad moods (just like we do) and I know they need their own space. For whatever reason, I totally understand that siblings do bicker. So while I don't expect my children to be all happy and sharing and 100% sweet with each other all the time, I do expect kindness. (The alternative to kind is mean, and I definitely don't tolerate or accept that trait in our home).
Kindness can be hard for a child to grasp when (in their mind) everything is about them. For me as a parent, teaching and modelling kindness means creating an understanding of selflessness - what it means to think of others before yourself - which is often a hard concept for children (and some adults) to fully understand.
So when my daughter screams and roars at my son, or hits him with an object, or calls him names and is downright mean for no apparent reason, this mama bear has some tactics up her sleeve in order to nip the meanness in the bud and encourage a kind heart instead. (Note, these tactics have effectively been used with all of my children and adapted for Miss 2).
To encourage kindness:
1. I send the offending child to their room with a piece of paper and a pencil. They are to write 5 things down (or draw a picture) that they like about the sibling that they have hurt.
2. For the rest of the day, the child who has been unkind must 'serve' the other child their meals - taking their drink and meal to the table and cleaning up their plate when they've finished.
3. Sometimes, if they are both "at" each other, I will make them give each other a hug and say "I love you" or "I love being your brother/sister" - this always lightens the mood and results in a lot of laughter. (Humour is a great diffuser of any tense situation).
4. We listen to a lot of Colin Buchanan music in our home, and one of his songs is about kindness - so depending on the situation, I will have the offending child sing part of the song to me: In the bible, in Ephesians, chapter 4 verse 32, God says be kind to one another. (I use a lot of songs to teach bible verses.... they know this one by heart!)
There are obviously other incidental teaching moments for encouraging kindness throughout the day, but I have found that these are the main tactics I use in 'heated' situations.
Often a child's meanness is a result of their thoughtlessness and immaturity. Due to their age, they don't have the capacity to think ahead before they act and they are therefore impulsive with their words and actions. With this in mind, I will always allow my children to talk and tell me their 'side' of the story in an attempt to understand where they are coming from (if they are tired, if they need some quiet time by themselves etc). I encourage empathy by asking how they think the other person would feel and what they think would be an appropriate response to their actions. There's usually plenty of 'he said/she said', but I think it's so important that children have the opportunity to explain their actions (and reactions) and the reasons why they chose to do what they did.
How do you encourage your children to be kind to each other?