Siblings Fighting: Don’t Say Boys Will Be Boys

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Siblings Fighting

Show Notes


“How to best deal with sibling fights being stuck at home for such an extended time. All the extra emotions everyone is feeling siblings are fighting way more than usual. What can I do?”

0:54 Lynn differentiates between the two kinds of sibling fights. One is that it’s mostly verbal and yelling and calling each other names or arguing over who gets to sit where on the couch, etc. And the other is when they get physical, and so somebody is in danger of getting hurt.


Lynn explains the negative impact tolerating violence causes and how to set limits to curb it.

13:49  The Montessori school cure all of a little Dixie cup of water


“As a working mom with two children under five, I’ve noticed a significant change in my own frustration, tolerance, and increased exhaustion and anger during the quarantine. Aside from taking a walk with the stroller, time alone or spending  any time on myself is just nonexistent. And neither child sleeps through the night consistently. What strategies can I employ at home to be less emotionally reactive?”

15:09 Start with sleep. We did a whole episode on sleep,

19:11  The playifcation on relaxation with tingly head massagers that are in the shape of a tulip.

22:09 Join our Facebook group where you can submit your own questions to Lynn for a future episode. We’re relaunching this podcast August 31st for a second season under a new name. Follow our social media. That’s where you’ll learn about the new name first.

Episode Transcript

Lynn Lyons  0:00 

So, today we have more listener questions. And I bet these questions are ones that most of us can relate to. We’ve got a mom who says that since the lockdown, she is noticing more and more conflict between her kids and another mom who has two young kids and she is just spent.

Hi, I’m Lynn Lyons. I’m a psychotherapist and author and anxiety expert. And I’m here with my producer and sister-in-law, Robin, to answer more of your listener questions.

Hi, Robin.

Robin Hutson  0:30 

Hi, Lynn.

Lynn Lyons  0:31 

How are you?

Robin Hutson  0:31 

Good. Good. I have the first question. I know this is happening for many because a lot of people have posted about this in the podcast Facebook group (which you should join if you’re not a member yet).

How To Help Siblings Stop Fighting

“How to best deal with sibling fights being stuck at home for such an extended time. All the extra emotions everyone is feeling siblings are fighting way more than usual. What can I do?”

Lynn Lyons  0:54 

Let’s differentiate between the two kinds of sibling fights. One is that it’s mostly verbal and yelling and calling each other names or arguing over who gets to sit where on the couch, etc. And the other is when they get physical, and so somebody is in danger of getting hurt.

So, let’s talk about the first one in general. So, you hear your kids bickering with each other. They’re yelling at each other; they’re squabbling over the remote or who’s going to fill in the blank.

Rule number one, of course, is that you need to remain calm. Don’t come storming in yelling or reacting. Be careful that you don’t fall into this habit of moving in and taking sides right away. And one of the things particularly if there’s an age differentiation, or if there’s one kid that’s physically bigger, or you know, sort of the dominant sibling that you immediately step in, and you go and you help the victim, right? So, somebody’s the victim, and then the aggressor gets banished. So, you’re like, “Oh, are you okay? You need to go to your room!”

Because right away, you’re setting up a pattern that a victim gets attention by being a victim and the aggressor gets angry and doesn’t have an opportunity to communicate or articulate what they were experiencing or what was going on.

So, you’re supporting the victim role, and you’re banishing what you see as the aggressor role, it means that the victim child will learn how to play the victim. And the aggressor will just continue to get angry not only at their sibling, but also at you. So be really careful about that.

So, what do you want to do instead, when they are having an argument? First thing, if it’s not getting physical, and people aren’t hurting each other, stay out of it. Let them work through it.

This is one of the things that we know with socialization right now is that kids playing out in the neighborhood, kids having independent play, worked through a lot of their conflicts. And the more that parents and adults step in and micromanage all these social interactions, the more that we’re getting in the way of them developing the skills that they need to develop.

Right, so maybe it’s how to take a break from each other. Maybe it’s how to negotiate, maybe it’s figuring out, you know, what’s off limits in terms of their disputes. So, stay out of it as much as you can. Also, when you have to step in, be careful that you’re not labeling your kids. Again, there’s the victim aggressor role, but there’s also the Well, you’re older, you should know better, or you’re bigger than she is. Or you, you know, when you do that, and you give them that role, they will step into the role that you give them. Even if it’s a negative role, they’ll take that on.

So, see it from their point of view. So, while you’re still holding them responsible for their behavior, and if somebody did something that crossed the line in your family, they hit or somebody threw a hairbrush or whatever, hold them responsible for their behavior. You don’t need to dismiss the behavior, but by saying something that shows both children that you’re hearing their point of view, you’re modeling empathy, and you’re modeling listening.

So you might say, okay, so you guys were just having an argument, and I don’t know all the details of what was going on, but… and so maybe you get a little bit “Well, she said this and I was supposed to do this.” “Okay, so if I were in your position, I would feel really annoyed that she did that.” And then you turn to the other child and you say, “And if I were in your position, I think my feelings would be hurt that you did that.”

Right away, you’re saying to them, we are listening to the other person’s point of view, and we are taking in all the information. You want to stay out of that blaming role. And so, you say things like, “You know what? I bet being the younger kid is really tough, right? Because you’re the smaller one and you are, you know, you aren’t really given the opportunity to make decisions very often, are you? I can see why you got upset about that.”

And then you want to ask those how questions, “How do you think you can handle this better?” Because they want to blame, and you want to blame. The more you stay out of blaming the better off you and your kids are going to be as you negotiate and figure out how to get along, particularly when you’re trapped in the house.

Sibling conflict is well within the range of normal behavior. But when you get pulled in, when you start yelling, and you start reacting, it’s just going to add to it.

Robin Hutson  5:08 

The oldest sibling has not a responsibility, but they’re simply going to get it before their younger siblings, which was, there’s an incentive for you to learn to get along. Because you have an opportunity of having a lifelong friendship with your sibling as long as you maintain a level of friendliness and respect. And you can also alienate a sibling for life. If you behave repeatedly disrespectfully, you know, and if you hurt them such that they don’t want to be your friend, we always showed actually, (since you’re my sister in law), you know, we always talked about how my husband (and your brother) get along, and how you, you all as siblings have a really nice adult relationship. And, and so I’ve always framed that as a goal for my kids. To learn to be friends and to recognize that when you want to fight, you’ve got to work through it in a way that you’ll want to with a friend, you know.

So, I think obviously, when they’re really little, that’s a different thing. But I think once my daughter was nine, we really started framing that, because the older sibling has the ability to cause a ton of disruption if they don’t feel like letting certain things go that a younger sibling is not old enough to know not to do quite yet.

Lynn Lyons  6:30 

Yeah, no, I agree. And let me say this too, which is interesting, is that I have heard from a lot of families during this pandemic, that they have been delightfully surprised at how well the siblings are getting along. So, I think we always have to make sure that we’re recognizing that it’s possible. I had a lot of families who thought “Oh, my God, this is going to go terribly.” And I think they did just what you’re saying is they realized that they had each other during this and that there, there was a real benefit to them being able to play together to be to be able to entertain each other. So, I think that’s happening, too. But I think you’re right.

It’s being able to talk to kids and say, “This is about being kind and respectful.” And again, you don’t do it in the middle of the conflict, and you recognize the conflict is normal. It’s going to happen. And it is not your job to jump in and fix it and stop it in the moment. But you can have those discussions about kindness and patience and tolerance in a very consistent way. It’s just sort of what you do as a family.

Robin Hutson  7:32 

The only time we really intervene quickly is when things get physical because there’s such an age difference with our kids. The physical takes a different… and I know you have a different take on…

Avoid “Boys Will Be Boys” Thinking

Lynn Lyons  7:42 

Yeah, the so the physical you’re going to as soon as soon as you see somebody getting physically hurt. You want to step in for a few reasons. One is the obvious is that you want to stop somebody from getting hurt. But also, you want the message, and this is what it was like in my family, and I’m sure it’s like that in your family is that this is it absolutely off limits. And this is why that “boys will be boys” language that people use really used to just frost me when my kids were little, because it was basically saying, well, we have to accept that boys will hurt each other physically, and that this is the way they’re going to communicate their anger, or this is the way that they’re going to get control. I just have no patience for that.

But one thing that I used to say to my boys, and I say this a lot, is not that, you know, when I’m speaking, I use this example a lot is that I would say to them, “Mommy and Daddy don’t hit each other. I don’t hit Daddy; Daddy doesn’t hit me. Daddy doesn’t hit you. I don’t hit you. And so why are we going to make an exception in our family, that you two get to hit each other when it is not allowed in our family? This is absolutely where I draw the line. And I would say it very clearly. I would say it I would say it actually when we would witness it with other kids doing that, or when they would hear stories about that. Because I can honestly say that my kids…I started this when they were very little. And they weren’t physical with each other in that way very often. But it can happen.

Robin Hutson  9:14  

Which says a lot because there are two boys and they’re only two years apart. And so, a vast majority of families have boys who are, if left on attended, will develop a way to physically express their anger instead of other ways.

Lynn Lyons  9:29 

And again, it’s if it happens, it happens. It’s not an unusual thing to happen. And so, if you have kids that pinch or pull hair or kick or pound on each other, that’s going to happen. It’s really just remembering that every time that happens, it’s an opportunity to really be very clear about what your family values are, and that there is no room for that.

It is really okay for you to say that you have zero tolerance for this in your family and to be very clear about it from the time that they’re young. You know, little toddlers hit and smack and bite and all that kind of stuff. But once they get to an age, which can be 3, 4, 5, certainly by 5 and 6, zero tolerance for physical harm to each other. Period.

Robin Hutson  10:16 

Doesn’t the conversation with them have to combine though, because you have to acknowledge their anger? So, it’s a conversation about feelings and anger. You’re, you’re feeling very angry right now, which is why you did.

Lynn Lyons  10:27 

That’s right.

Robin Hutson  10:28 

That is off limits. We’re going to talk about your anger, and I see that you’re angry. And so, you validate their anger and then say, “There are so many other ways that you can, with permission, and with our family values express that anger.

Lynn Lyons  10:41 

Just like I was saying before, is that you take the point of view of both of them, and you validate it, and you say, “I absolutely understand why you felt that way. And if I were in your position, I might have wanted to do the same thing. I might have wanted to… I probably would have had the same feelings.”

So, you’re validating the feeling, and so you’re not saying “Oh, you shouldn’t be angry your brother.” I mean, one of the things we say like “He’s your brother, you should love him not be angry at him!” Well, you know, you can do both. You can love him and be pissed off at him because he’s annoying.

So being able, yes, saying, I understand you feel that way. And then I always use metaphors and analogies, right? And so, I might say, “You know, when we were driving in the car the other day and remember that person cut me off, and I yelled and said, Hey, you know, whatever. I said, ‘Hey, stupid head. Why’d you cut me off?'” I probably didn’t say stupid head actually.

Robin Hutson  11:34 

You didn’t say stupid head, but that’s okay.

Lynn Lyons  11:36 

Right. But you know, say, you know, hey, and I say “Now, if I were if I were really mad at him, when we got up to the red light, did I smash my car into his car? Did I did I see if I could put a big dent in his bumper? No, I did not.” We could all understand that I felt that way because that was really bad driving by that person. But then I’m not going to smash my car into his and so you can use examples of that. You can use things that help them see the differentiation between I have this feeling and I might respond versus getting physical, really, really helpful for kids to hear that and for you to really give them that consistent message: zero tolerance.

Siblings Fighting is Normal

 It’s going to happen. Don’t freak out when they fight, don’t freak out when they hurt each other. Again, it’s all about skill building. What are the skills that you want your children to develop? Sibling relationships are places where we develop a lot of our interpersonal skills. So, let them let them work through things. And you’d be there to coach. You’d be there to step in when necessary. But give them give them a little room to figure it out. Kids bickering is a normal thing that happens and it used to happen out of parents’ earshot all the time. And now they’re in the house. So, you’re hearing it, but teach them teach them skills.

Robin Hutson  12:51 

Can I tell you? Last night my kids actually had a little kerfuffle. Yeah, and they haven’t really had one lately. Yeah, my younger son said something so funny. He got very upset, and he’s older now. So, he knew to separate. He knew “I’m angry at you, I’m going in another room.” And then he, you know, just knew to go into another room, and so I said, “Well, are you okay?” And he said, “I’m really angry,” and I said, “Yeah, that sounds frustrating.” And then he said, “My throat hurts,” And I was like, Oh, no. I hope he’s not getting sick.

So, I was like, “Well, let’s have a nice glass of water.” And then later I said, “How does your throat feel now?” And he said, “It’s fine.”

He said, “Sometimes when I’m angry my throat burns.”

Lynn Lyons  13:33 

Ah, yeah.

Robin Hutson  13:35 

And I said, “You know, that means that you have angry words you need to get out. You don’t have to yell them. Just even acknowledging your anger, conversationally and sharing that you’re angry, is what your body’s asking you to do.”

Lynn Lyons  13:49 

Yeah, it reminds me when my kids read the sweetest little Montessori school that they went to end whenever anybody had any kind of emotional or physical distress the immediate solution was one of the other little cute muffins would go and get a little cup of water. It was the cure all.

Robin Hutson  14:05 

Yes, that was it my daughter’s Montessori school, too! Yes, just a little cup of water.

Lynn Lyons  14:10 

A little Dixie cup of water. It was so… yeah. It was just this like little empathic thing that they all learned, and then they would almost sort of race to be the one who was going to get the cup of water. But it didn’t matter if you, like, hurt your feelings, or if you fell on your knees, or if you wet your pants, right? A little Dixie cup of water was the magic elixir of the Montessori School.

Robin Hutson  14:30 

I’m going to go to Amazon right now and order the biggest container of little Dixie cups so that my kids can bring those to me all day long.

A Working Mom With An Empty Tank

Here’s another question that we have.

“As a working mom with two children under five, I’ve noticed a significant change in my own frustration, tolerance, and increased exhaustion and anger during the quarantine. Aside from taking a walk with the stroller, time alone or spending  any time on myself is just nonexistent. And neither child sleeps through the night consistently. What strategies can I employ at home to be less emotionally reactive?”

Lynn Lyons  15:09 

Okay, so I’m sure there are so many moms who can relate to this because the disruption in our routine and being a working mom with two little kids and going through all of this is so challenging.

So, the first thing that jumped out at me is that you feel exhausted mom, and that neither of your kids are sleeping through the night consistently. So, there aren’t a lot of details that you provided about what the sleeping patterns or arrangements are like.

But the first piece of advice I would give you is to work on the sleep issue. This is a good time to do it. It’s the summertime. If you look, we did a whole episode on sleep, actually, I believe it was episode seven. So, go back and listen to that. There are some really concrete strategies that I use with young kids to interrupt or to get a better sleep pattern. That’s going to give you better sleep.

One of the things, if you’re not sleeping well, and if your kids aren’t sleeping, well, that just automatically means that your emotional reserves are going to be kind of crappy and that you’re going to be more reactive, you’re going to be more irritable, and at times, volatile. So, go after that sleep issue. Listen to episode seven and see if you can give yourself some skills there and your kids, too.

The other thing I wonder is if you’re going through the day, and you said other than sort of going for a walk with a stroller, which means you do have a very little one, if you’ve got somebody in a stroller, I would work in some more mini rewards or breaks during the day. And by mini rewards, that can just mean three minutes; that can mean five minutes; it can mean one minute.

But being able to give yourself a pattern of stopping and breaking even if that means that you sit and take 10 easy breaths or five easy breaths if you play a song that you really love. Music, we know, has great impact on our emotional state. I was having a lousy day a while ago, during the beginning all of this. I was feeling very tearful. I went for a walk, I blasted some songs in my earphones, and I just sang and immediately felt better. So, think about giving yourselves mini breaks.

The other thing, and I don’t know if you’re doing this, but I certainly did it when my kids were little is— because you want time to yourself, and I bet, Robin, you’ve done this too (we’ve all done this)— you stay up really late after the kids are finally asleep. Because that’s the only time you have to yourself, and you crave that time. But then you’re depriving yourself of sleep, and the whole house isn’t sleeping well. And you’re, as I said, you’re going to be depleted and irritable, and you get that that vicious cycle going. So, if you are falling into that trap of staying up later, then you should, pay attention to that. You’re depriving yourself of one of the very important nutrients that you need in order to parent.

The other thing I would pay attention to is the kind of adult contact you’re having. So, if you’re working full time you’ve got these two little kids, are you making time to have conversations with friends? Are you seeing people outside of your work routine or outside of your immediate family? Because that’s enormously important for us as we’re going through this. It’s enormously important as moms of young kids anyway, we know that. So, I just wonder if that might be something that you need to make a conscious effort to add into your life.

So, I think having contact with your friends, is so important. It’s important when we’re not in a pandemic. We know that being able to see people outside of your work environment, outside of your immediate family, talking to your friends, is so, so important. I think you need to make a conscious effort to examine and perhaps add more adult contact than you’re having, because that’s going to replenish you and allow you to… it’s sort of one of the really important things that you need in order to be able to parent. You’re not going to be perfect as a parent, it’s really okay for you to have some messiness in there. But having adult contact is really going to be helpful to you.

Robin Hutson  19:11 

I think that when… we both, you know, we both had kids under five at some point… and I think that taking the breaks during the day, it’s funny because you’re talking about creating self-care, you know, with like, a lot of activity. But when you’re really sleep deprived, and you’ve got the little one, sometimes you don’t, you just don’t feel like you have the energy to do that. So I recall in those times, taking those moments, especially like if you’re working and you’re on your computer all day, and then you get off around that five to six to 7pm is really tough, because then it’s like, well, you got to do dinner now. And you’re exhausted. I think that there are these ways that a family can sort of slow down and lie down on the floor and ask your kids to lie down next to you and play some sort of, you know, say “Kids were gonna do home spa.”

And the idea is to just slow down and snuggle and play some kind of relaxing music for like five to 10 minutes. I remember doing this and then falling asleep, right, until they nudge you and wake you up. And then eventually we would play that game, and then we would rub scented lotions on our own legs or something. But as I guess a therapist would say playifcation on relaxation, you know. Merge the two, you know?

Those tingly head massagers that are in the shape of a tulip. Yeah, so a three-year-old can do that to their mom’s head, you know, and you have to show them like no, no, don’t go up and down like a toilet plunger. You know, you can work that in and make the play, self-indulgent for the mom to get the break that she needs. And she’s entitled to that.

The other thing I would just say to when we’ve had bad periods of sleep is to check in on diet. Think about sugar and caffeine. Make sure the mom is not having another cup of coffee later in the day and to make sure that sugar isn’t given late at night. And definitely no— it’s the summertime— chocolate ice cream. It would keep my kids awake for all-nighters. We had this joke in the summer if it’s after 2pm, no chocolate ice cream.

Lynn Lyons  21:21 

Yep, those are great suggestions. And it is that vicious cycle with caffeine and you’re trying to keep yourself awake and so you stimulate yourself and then you can’t fall asleep and yeah, so really is I think back to the basics, but I love that idea of having a relaxing time during those. Yeah, those are those late afternoon hours or those right after you finish work hours.

Robin Hutson  21:41 

I just want to say to that mom, I and so a lot of this is my kids are older now. I never thought I would get back to that sense of normal sleep or rest because I was in a sleep deprivation state for about five and a half years, and it does go away eventually. But it’s brutal when you’re in it.

Lynn Lyons  21:57 

I remember that, too. I remember realizing when my kids got older, my eyes always burned because I wear contacts, too. And I thought, oh my gosh, my eyes aren’t burning. What is this? Yeah, it does get better.

Robin Hutson  22:09

We should just talk about this in general because this is affecting a lot of us is. It’s so true. So, moms typically do stay up late to just have to feed that introverted energy of time alone. That’s very challenging right now. I can tell you know, I crave a few hours in our house alone right now, and I haven’t had any since— I don’t know— February. I don’t know what people are doing. But if listeners are having successful ideas of still incorporating alone time that is not replacing sleep time, send us an email or let us know in the podcast Facebook group.

Lynn, thank you so much for answering these listener questions. And it’s a reminder to join our Facebook group where you can submit your own questions to Lynn for a future episode. And I also want to remind listeners that we’re super excited. We’re relaunching this podcast for a second season in a new name that we will be releasing very soon. So be looking for that it. It will not be a mom’s retreat. Follow our social media. That’s where you’ll learn about the new name first. So, join that Facebook group.

Lynn Lyons  23:22 

Yes, we’re very excited. We’ve been plotting and planning. Talk to you soon, Robin.

Bye, everybody.

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