Getting Along

I had it first!

No you didn’t! I did! I just set it down and you grabbed it! No fair!

When I reason with them that there are two of what they are fighting over, just that one is red and the other is blue, they both stare at me. They both need the red one, and they both feel they have rights to it. Even if the item is exactly the same, it’s THAT one they both want.

Seriously, the bickering is reaching intolerable levels. And bossing. And whining. And button pushing – Kate is very good at provoking Cameron to totally lose his shit and then saying, but what did I do? when she gets in trouble too. And to be fair, Cameron is very talented at responding to the button pushing, and at putting himself in situations that provoke Kate. I don’t know how to teach him to be aware of when he is being annoying, or to even care.

I’ve tried teaching them in calm discussions the tools they need, like ignoring, walking away, talking nicely, treating the other as they each wish to be treated. Sounds great, but Cameron will nod enthusiastically then completely forget later, and Kate … well, at the slightest hint that she might not be behaving like the sweetest nicest best behaved girl on the face of the earth she turns sullen and stares at the ground crying.

I’ve tried reasoning with them. Hey kids, you know you’ve got to live with each other like this for at least another ten years, right? So you can fight and hate each other for a decade, or try to get along and be happy. That’s great, they nod, and agree. And then fight over one gluestick when there’s a second one an arm’s reach away. But I had this one first!

I’ve tried yelling at them. In a way, that worked. Because Cameron went to his room for some self-imposed alone time emphasized with a double door slam, and Kate sat on the couch crying, and this meant that they weren’t fighting. Yay! Except not.

One thing that worked briefly was challenging them to think of two things that the LIKE about the other one. This involved going to their rooms to play alone while they thought about it until dinner (hooray, no fighting), and then sharing at dinner time. This was great. They actually both came up with insightful remarks about the other, and glowed in the praise. But then it was back to normal.

I extended this, and imposed the Golden Rule on them. Their challenge was to treat each other they way they wished to be treated. It sort of worked. At least it gave me something to say when bickering started. Cameron, is that how you want Kate to speak to you when she wants something you have? Monday morning I reminded Kate that if she didn’t like being bossed around, why is she telling Cameron what to do? What? I thought we just had to be nice to each other for the weekend!

And so, I resorted to bribery one evening this past week. There was a demand to visit the library on the way home from after-school care, but not only did I have to get us home and start dinner (you know, it was six pm already), but I didn’t have their library cards. When we got home, the idea struck me. Hey kids? I know you really want to go to the library. Tell you what. If you two can get along — that means no fighting, bickering, bossing, or whining — and be helpful, cooperative, and not complain about dinner, maybe your dad will take you to the library after dinner if there’s time.

cooperative artSuddenly I had two sweet, cooperative, helpful kids in the living room. As I made dinner I heard them complimenting each other. They spoke nicely to each other. Okay, Cameron slipped up once; he calmly asked, Kate, why are you so mean to me sometimes? Not the best timing, but I recognized that he was trying one of the techniques I’d talked with him about: let Kate know how her behaviour makes him feel, talk about it in a non-confrontational way outside of the situation. I could hear that Kate was upset by this, but she didn’t escalate it, so kudos to her. I know it was hard for her. They worked on a collaborative art project, where neither one was telling the other what to do.

Next time I’ll remember to include Leif in the plans, because he arrived home unaware and didn’t sound overly keen on a library trip. Oops.  But yes, the kids got their reward, and were openly praised for the part they played in getting along. One super-speedy grab books and go trip to the library before bed.

Best of all, both kids agreed that the evening was a really good one, that it was much more fun when they were both trying to not fight, and that it wasn’t really hard at all.

The next day they didn’t see much of each other at home … and now Kate’s gone to her mom’s until Monday. When she’s back, I’m thinking of more ways to set them up for success. Maybe eventually a healthy pattern will emerge and I can ease off the overt bribery.



2 responses to “Getting Along

  1. I didn’t grow up with my brother and sister, so it’s hard for me to understand why my kids need to fight all the time. My only hope is that they grow out of it. Until then, I’m not above bribing them!

  2. Ah, they fight too?
    I grew up with my sister, and yeah, we bickered. But not like this! There were some differences – different age gap, friends in the neighbourhood, more freedom. And maybe my mom’ll pop on and say, “Are you kidding, this is nothing more than karma!”

    I think a big part of the reason behind the bickering is the general family dynamic. Kate comes and goes, but Cameron is always here. So Kate feels a need to assert her place here. Cameron feels edged out when she arrives and tries to take over, and he’s also suddenly sharing stuff/time/space/attention. I think that if Kate were here all the time they’d reach an equilibrium, a stable point, and it would be easier to work on things with them. But … that just isn’t going to happen. So we’re stuck re-learning the same lessons again and again and again and again.

    Oh – and I don’t mean to sound like I blame this all on Kate. I don’t. Cameron plays his own part let me TELL you.

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