This spring, Anton and Toby have been arguing more than usual, and it’s making me a little nutty. When I mentioned it on Instagram, many, many parents agreed that their kids were clashing, and they weren’t sure how to handle it. So! I turned to Becky Kennedy, the amazing clinical psychologist and mother of three, and here’s the surprising advice she gave…
“Having a sibling is really, really hard” was the first thing Dr. Becky told me on the phone. And I nodded along, remembering the ups and downs I experienced while growing up in a family with three kids. “Sibling arguing is TOTALLY NORMAL,” she assured.
Next, I expected Dr. Becky to launch into the million ways siblings drive each other up the wall, but she actually stepped back and looked at the bigger picture. It all goes back to “attachment security,” she explained, which is essentially how safe and secure each child feels within the family. How seen do I feel? Do I have a place in this family? Do I feel appreciated for who I am? She continued: “Siblings are competitors to getting what a child feels is safe — a parent’s love and connection. As soon as a kid feels insecure in that way, his or her sibling becomes a threat. Conversely, the more a child feels safe and secure in those ways, the less a child looks at a sibling as a competitor and the more they look at the sibling as a playmate.”
Bottom line: When sibling rivalry is at a high, it’s actually a sign that a kid doesn’t feel secure or safe in his or her position in the family, especially with the parents. The more we do to let each kid feel valued and appreciated, the more quality time we spend individually with the kid, the more sibling relationships will improve.
(A side note, says Dr. Becky: “None of this is a parent’s fault. Just viewing it in that light gives us a ton of power. Oh, that’s amazing because I can impact a sibling relationship, and I don’t even need anything to happen between them.”)
After speaking with Dr. Becky on the phone, I was curious to learn more, so I watched her online workshop on sibling dynamics. (It has 60 minutes of teaching, followed by a 15-minute Q&A.) And here’s what jumped out at me.
“The single biggest thing kids need to get along with their siblings is more one-on-one time with parents,” said Dr. Becky. “Ten minutes of one-on-one time with a parent does more for family peacefulness than anything else.”
She explained the rules:
1) Just you and your child. No partner, no other kids, no screens, no distractions.
2) Join your child’s world. Don’t direct the play. It’s your child’s choice.
3) Don’t ask your child any questions during those 10 minutes. (Asking questions is a position of power — even ‘What kind of tower are you building?’) Simply REFLECT (just describe what they’re doing) and MIRROR (e.g., you can build a tower next to them). Give them your full attention.
This past weekend, I took Dr. Becky’s advice and spent one-on-time time with Toby and then with Anton. And Alex did the same. And it already seems to be helping. Last night, bedtime was so calm — the boys were chatting and laughing, no yelling or squabbling at all. I almost teared up.
What do you think? How are your kids getting along these days? Have you tried one-on-one time with them? If you’d like to learn more, Dr. Becky offers workshops and has a new podcast. You can also find her on Instagram. (This isn’t a sponsored post, I’m just so grateful for her insights!)
(Photo by Courtney Rust/Stocksy.)