And here they are….The Summer Holidays!
We seem to quickly go from counting down to the summer holidays and counting down to the return of school. We love them and loath them in equal measure and, somehow, they are too long – and not long enough!
We look forward to having time to leisurely get ready in the morning without nagging (encouraging!) our children to get dressed, brush their teeth, and comb their hair. We long for a morning where we don’t hear ourselves repeatedly asking: Do you have your lunch? Have you got your homework? Aren’t you ready yet? Have you brushed your teeth? Where’s your homework? Oh… and have you brushed your teeth? (Sound familiar?)
And yet, all too quickly we realise that we are just exchanging one challenge for another. Whether it’s teenagers who will not emerge from their bedroom until midday or 6-year-olds who are bored by 8 am, the Summer Holidays bring a new challenge.
These challenges, of course, are different in each family. You may be negotiating a new routine with holiday clubs, organising grandparents babysitting, becoming chief entertainer for your only child – or perhaps even, becoming referee to your battling siblings!
If you have just one child at home, you may wish for an additional playmate to give you some release from being the sole entertainer, however, you can probably imagine how siblings can fight and argue – there are times when they can unexpectedly play beautifully and be so kind, but it can feel like those times are few and far between. We also know that as parents of siblings, we can all too often find ourselves in a position of compromise and that it is difficult to please all the children all of the time. Even when we are providing entertainment, one child may want to go to the park while the other one wants to play in the garden – or you’ve finally agreed they can have some television time, but they can’t agree on the same programme!
It’s really no surprise you might find yourself praising the tablet/ipad god who allows you to send your children to separate rooms while you drink a cup of tea and prepare yourself for round two (or ten!).
What to do when it all goes wrong…
Despite putting tools in place to support our children, at some point it is inevitable that there will be a communication breakdown and a boundary will be crossed (either physically or emotionally) between siblings. Perhaps someone’s feelings get hurt, or someone is actually hurt – then we may need to support our children in resolving the upset.
Resolution can come from showing understanding, working together to tidy up, or finding ways to take turns. It’s worth remembering though that conflict resolution is a very advanced skill (and you may even know an adult who struggles in this department!).
So, how can we support our children to calm down during sibling conflict?
If you have already worked with one of the Youth Fairies, you will understand that sometimes our amygdala (the flight, fight, depression area of our brains), can hijack our entire brain leaving us unable to make a proper assessment of the situation.
- Our language centre shuts down and we can no longer do the next right thing. When we are no longer able to access our intellectual mind to make a proper assessment of the conflict, we usually become overwhelmed, angry, upset or a mixture of all three.
- If we give our children time and space to reflect and regain control, we give them the opportunity to return to their intellectual mind so that they can process and assess, and give them time to choose their next steps. This might take some practice and some modelling so be prepared to articulate these steps yourself when you negotiate conflict with them next time.
- Encourage them and give them positive feedback when they make any attempt to do this, even if they don’t always succeed. You are giving them an opportunity to develop their emotional intelligence and teaching them that they can navigate their way back to their intellectual and rational brain again – the place where they can be innovative, creative, and respond in a more positive way.
You can support your children in developing positive sibling relationships and finding ways to manage conflict to better enjoy their time off school. And so, as we begin the wonderful, very long, summer ‘holidays,’ here are some tips and ideas to help you and your children do more than just survive:
- Get boredom busting – before the boredom bug hits. It can be painful to hear our children (just one minute after arriving home from an expensive ‘surely this is going to tire them out’ activity) calling out “I’m bored!” It’s important to remember though that being bored is an opportunity to daydream and for children to use their imagination. At the beginning of the holidays, take time to create an activity list (or jar), and when the “B” word arrives, steer them to the list of activities. If you have a joint list for siblings and an individual list, this can be a go-to for when they find it hard to play together.
- Find ways for your child to relax and recharge. As with the activity list, you could support your children to create a list of things that they want to do that helps them to relax and recharge – this might include creating a sensory box with colouring items, a book to read, fidget toys, favourite toys, or even blankets and pillows. If your child thrives on physical activity, then it can be good to recognise that they need time outside with a bike or on a trampoline – having a physical outlet for them may be as important as providing that quiet space for your more introverted child. It can really help your child, whether they are extroverts or introverts if you praise them when you see them proactively recognising and meeting their own needs. It is likely that they will respond much more positively to their siblings (and to you) if they have been able to make decisions to look after themselves.
- Encourage some time alone. In addition to setting up the Boredom buster before the challenges of the holidays take hold, it can be a good idea to agree on a safe space that your children can retreat to when they need to be alone. You can set the agreement that everyone will respect the good choice they’ve made when they need some time to recharge or calm down.Giving children their own space develops respect for one another and recognises the different needs our children might have. Some children thrive with lots of activity and time with others, whilst other children need the opportunity to be quiet and spend time alone.
- Encourage siblings to compromise. As long as it’s not getting physical, resist the urge to step in and referee the sibling conflict all of the time. Give them a chance to find a resolution or compromise. They may just surprise you if you give them the opportunity to sort it out between themselves. If frustration is giving way to anger, it might be time to encourage some time apart. Anger can be a sign that they are in their primitive mind and, from this place, it becomes difficult for them to make a proper assessment or to be solution-focused. Do encourage them to revisit the conflict as it may well be something that will help them next time.
- Agree on the rules together. When things go wrong and fall-outs happen, it can be easy for us to forget the tools, rules and boundaries that we have in place and so you might decide with your children that you create some posters to put around the house to support everyone in keeping to the plan that you’ve agreed together.
AND if you do need to referee…
Avoid taking sides – If we can remain neutral and not blame the eldest sibling or the one who may often instigate fall-outs, then we are better able to be the calm mediator. It can be helpful to ask questions, such as what do you think would be fair? What would help you to feel happier/calmer/heard? You look/appear angry/sad. How can I help? When we mediate, we model how they might work through this next time. Modelling really is a powerful tool to have up your sleeve!
If you would like further information, help, or support with managing sibling rivalry, you can contact your nearest therapist at The Youth Fairy at: https://www.theyouthfairy.com/fairies/
General information and support can also be found at: