As a parent, avoid taking sides when your kids whine about each other. (Source: Getty Images)
By Tanu Shree Singh
'Can I have his room?' The younger one asked as soon as the older one left for college. I shook my head and successfully fought the urge to give him one whack on his thick head. But that is how they have been. They would discuss Manga and Anime for hours and then be at each other's throat over the flavour of ice-cream that they want to order. Most of the times, I get to stay out of it. Sometimes, I also hide to avoid being drawn into the fight. Over the years, I have successfully kept sane, prevented them from giving each other grave injuries, helping them be somewhat tolerant of each other on bad days and concerned about each other on others. The things that worked for me:
Emotions have to be acknowledged
The child is annoyed with the other? Let them express their feelings. Often, we make the mistake of snubbing them and preventing them from expressing emotions like jealousy or anger, thereby turning them into a pressure cooker that could burst. By not acknowledging the emotions, we make them feel defensive and sometimes small. The idea is to help them deal with the emotions and not negate them. And they will be able to deal with the emotions only after they have accepted them rather than spending energy in justifying them.
No, you are not a referee
Earlier, they would run to me with their grievances against the other. Now they call and sometimes message. Their modes of communication have changed but my response remains the same - 'I wasn't there, so I cannot take sides and decide who was right or wrong.' Unless the guilty party is carrying a billboard screaming that he is at fault, I do not take sides. And if there is a fight that broke ground rules of no physical/verbal violence, then both lose out some privilege.
This works for younger children wonderfully well. Get the children to decorate a clear glass jar with their names. Every time they indulge in cooperative play they get pre-decided number of tokens; fights mean tokens gone and being kind to each other gets them the highest number of tokens. Once the jar is full, they can exchange the tokens on some activity that both of them agree on. How many tokens for what and what they mean is up to the parent.
Comparisons are poisonous
Want to bring up warring kids? Compare. Want them to hate each other? Tell them to learn from their brother (or sister) who eats everything. From behaviour to marks, quite a few of us are guilty of direct or implied comparison. Catch that habit as soon as you can and celebrate their differences instead. Think about it, who in the world realises that the parents are right and that they need to 'learn' from their sibling?
One to one time
A lot of times, family trips or lunches end up being a match of wits and patience with the kids whining about each other. While the chaos is also a part of bonding, some alone time with only one of the kids is also essential. This gives them time to connect with you, and have meaningful conversations rather than being in combative mode all the time. Last year the younger one and I took a short vacation to Goa. The older one and I sometimes go for a movie. Both share the same equation with the father. Such trips give them breathing space and neutral grounds to communicate on.
You are not God
We think that being a parent makes us superheroes who have a solution to everything, who never break down and are never bruised. There will be heartbreaks, you will find eyes welling up, there would be days which would make you exasperated. Let go. You cannot control everything. You need to indulge in some amount of self-care not only for your own sanity but also to set the tone right. If they see you consciously trying to rid yourself of negativity, they stand a good chance of doing the same. If you are mostly angry, they are more likely to yell more.
It has been 16 years and I have become a professional dodger of sticky situations where I might be required to hear sides, pronounce judgement and decide the quantum of punishment. Most of these things have helped over the years. The boys today are not each other's best buddies but they do look out for each other. I see the older one frown and mutter when he sees the younger one be clueless about his future. He also tries to wriggle more privileges for him out of me. The younger one shares his chocolates with him. That is love enough for me.
(The writer has a PhD in Positive Psychology and is a lecturer in psychology. She is also the author of the book Keep Calm and Mommy On. Listen to Season 1 and 2 of Tanu Shree Singh's podcast podcast Difficult Conversations With Your Kids.)