When Your Kids are Mean to Each Other
(originally posted June 2014, and re-sharing for mommas with littles)
My family and I have had a great summer. We’ve been to the beach, stayed up late laughing and being silly, caught up with friends, and enjoyed extra time together that I try to cherish because I know one day, we’ll be going in different directions.
With the extra time together, however, comes the reminder of how extra-comfortable we get around the people we’re with the most.
We let down our guard. We filter less of what we say. We let our true colors show – the good and the ugly – because frankly, we’re kind of exhausted from being on our best behavior around everyone else.
Yes, the people who know us best also tend to see our worst because:
1. We feel completely comfortable and safe around them; and
2. We don’t worry about them deserting us or writing us off on a whim because in many cases – i.e. family – they’re stuck with us. And when someone is stuck with us, there’s a security in the relationship that makes it easy to push the limits.
Security in a relationship is a wonderful thing. Without it, we couldn’t build true, deep, and meaningful connections. But sometimes, the relationships we’re most confident about are where we’re more likely to blurt out hurtful things. We get a lazy filter that leads to hurt feelings, tension, and arguments.
And while a lazy filter can damage any relationship, a lazy filter inside a home can really tear us down. Because home is supposed to be our sanctuary. It’s our soft place to land after a hard day.
Like many parents, I try to foster a positive environment. I applaud my kids when they love and affirm each other. I tell them that while friends may come and go, family is forever. Their sibling relationships will be the longest relationships in their lives, and it’s important they nurture the ties because one day, they’ll only have each other from our original family unit.
In the heat of summer, however, this logic gets lost. Mingled in with the fun, sun, and freedom is the reality that familiarity can breed contempt. That’s why siblings may make lovely remarks like:
“You’re an idiot.”
“You’re a brat.”
“Just stop talking!”
“Get out of my face!”
Not exactly music to a mother’s ears, I tell you. While I should be used to the sporadic jab (followed by laughter 10 minutes later, I might add), each one is a dagger to my heart. One of my greatest hopes is that my daughters eventually become best friends, the kind of sisters who name their daughters after each other, call each other constantly, and laugh about their former fights.
I’m not alone, because readers of my blog have emailed me on the subject of sibling meanness, asking for advice. As one mom put it: My kids are kind to their friends…it’s kindness at home that’s our issue. Boy, did that resonate. Sometimes when my daughters mistreat each other, I point out how they’d never treat a friend that way (and if they did, she wouldn’t be their friend for long). Like anyone, their siblings deserve respect, maybe even more respect because they’re in it for the long haul.
Siblings are going to fight, because they’re human like the rest of us. But if we look at these conflicts as opportunities to teach our kids social skills they’ll need in the real world, the fights can serve a purpose. They’ll learn early how to get along, resolve conflict, and peacefully co-exist with people who are different than them – all of which sets them up for positive relationships down the road.
Here are a few ideas on creating a kinder home. While I can’t promise miracles, I can say these things have helped us make progress in reducing sibling tension:
1. Consider three questions – Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? – before speaking. The key word here is “necessary.” Because as we all know, kids can be brutally honest. Sometimes when they cause hurt feelings, they’re not trying to mean; they’re just pointing out the obvious.
While it may be true their sibling lost the game for her softball team, is it really necessary to mention it? Yes, some truths should be voiced, but others are best left unsaid. Helping our kids discern the difference prevents tears and tension.
2. Speak hard truths with love and grace. I rely on my family to be honest with me. If there’s something no one else has the heart to say, I count on them to say it.
But like anyone, I’m more open to hearing messages delivered properly, words spoken from a place of love and grace, not anger or haste. By teaching our children the importance of tone, timing, and tact, we help ensure they’ll get heard and be respected as truth tellers. We also train them to pay as much attention to their method as the message itself.
3. Model kindness. How my husband and I treat each other and our kids sets the bar of kindness. Can I really expect my kids not to yell at each other when I yell at them? Can I call them out for saying, “You’re getting on my nerves!” when I’ve slipped and said that?
I hate to admit it, but I get emotionally charged, too. Old habits of fighting with my sisters, habits I thought I’d outgrown until motherhood resurrected them, come out sometimes when the kids test me. I’m not proud of this, and all I can do afterward is ask them for forgiveness and pray for self-control.
4. Foster a team mentality. On any team, what’s good for one is good for all. What happens to one happens to all. When a family unites to cheer for the child in the spotlight – a spotlight that continually revolves so everyone gets a turn – a family fan club results.
Kids like a family fan club when they get cheered on, too. Whether it’s a dance recital, a birthday, or a big event, there’s always someone to celebrate, a way to spotlight every team member.
5. Try toothpaste to make your point. My friend recently shared a trick that her sister uses. I included it in my book for teens. One day when her daughters were bashing each other, she took them into the bathroom and gave them each toothpaste. She instructed them to squirt their toothpaste into the sink.
Once the glob was out, she told them to put the toothpaste back in the tube. They couldn’t, of course, and that led to her point: The words we speak are like toothpaste. Once they’re out, they’re out. Think twice before making a mess you can’t put back in.
So if your kids argue, remember you’re not alone. Know that for a majority of moms, it’s a challenge.
And when you see pictures on social media of happy siblings loving each other, remember those are moments in time. Moms eagerly post them because we’re so thrilled when our kids get along. These moments are like a rainbow after a storm, a rainbow that deserves documentation because it may not last long.
We’re all in this together, raising kids we hope will love each other and survive each other, too. 😉 So cherish the best moments of summer, and don’t let the fights ruin it. Most siblings have a long way to go in appreciating each other. But with time and maturity, it can happen. With time they’re apt to realize how much they really need each other, and look fondly back on World War III and those memories they made while driving Mom up the wall and getting silly lessons with toothpaste they will never, ever forget.
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Also, I’ve written two books for teen & tween girls designed to empower them through faith. The newest one, Liked, is getting a fantastic response as a unique resource for girls of the digital age, and along with the bestselling 10 Ultimate Truths Girls Should Know, it’s being used widely across the U.S. for small group studies.
Have a great day, and thanks again for stopping by!
Posted by Kari on June 16, 2014
Such a great and reassuring read. Thank you x