Reversing an Angry Sibling Habit

I'm never quite sure how it happens, but sometimes the kids get into this horrid place of interacting with each other as if they're talking to the enemy each time they say something to their brother or sister.   The worst part about this is that it feels like my husband and my reactions escalate so that we quickly sound no better than the kids, “Hey, you can speak kindly? Hey! HEY, I'm Tired Of That TONE!” (Said in the exact tone that you're so tired of…)

The kids keep grousing at each other. It goes on and on, with parents feeling like nobody is listening to them, with siblings feeling like no one is listening to them, and with this irritated whiny voice coming out over and over and over again.

We've been stuck in on of these bad communication cycles lately, but I finally broke out of the nasty tones with this!

Sibling Courtesy

Stuck in an Angry Tone of  Voice

We do not usually speak in such angry tones around here, but it crops up occasionally, and I hate the way it feels. I've felt stuck, and confused as to what to do to set things on a different path.

We've talked (I've talked at them…) about treating one another with courtesy and speaking kindly.

We've talked about the feeling we want to create in our home, and what they can do to contribute to that.

I've repeated their requests in kind tones and asked them to start over and speak more kindly.

I've separated them and asked them to calm down.

And I've talked again about courtesy and giving each other grace.

And none of it has been too effective.

But last night I came upon a strategy that finally seemed to shift things.  I believe I finally gave them something concrete to DO instead of only telling them what NOT to do. Much like when I realized that I do better trying to use a kind voice, than I do trying not to yell, I think my kids needed to see something to reach towards instead of being reminded over and over of what not to do.

Going Above and Beyond

What's helped is asking the kids to go above and beyond to be thoughtful to one another. (I know, maybe that sounds crazy, but hear me out.)

I snapped the other night after one more harsh interaction and said something like, “LOOK. You guys like a peaceful home right?! Well we NEED to be courteous and thoughtful in order to make our home a peaceful place to live! That means we are not just kind, we actually need to go Above and Beyond for each other. Being courteous means we're thinking of ways to be helpful and going above and beyond to do that.”

Then I started giving examples for each incident. So instead of just asking them to stop and try again, I gave an example of one more thing they could to to really shine.

  • When one son said that he wouldn't stop the movie we were watching together: “Stop the movie. Being courteous means you think about how you can be helpful for people.  Your brother jumped up to get the phone; you can pause the movie for him. Not only that, you can go above and beyond by setting it back to the place just before he left the room.”
  • When one son grumped about being asked to do a chore that's usually his brother's: “Yes, your dad asked you to feed the dogs because your brother is really tired – this is a way you can go above and beyond and be thoughtful; thanks so much.”

Then I started really looking for ways they were going above and beyond – catching them being courteous.

I'm sure you've heard the term, “Catch them being good.”  This is what I started doing with their sibling interactions.  It's a bit over the top for the moment to get us back on the right path.

Tonight's was like this: “Hey, I know you wanted to make nachos on your own. I heard how you changed your tone of voice when you asked her to stop grabbing ingredients, and then when you gave her a handful of cheese so she could help, that was going above and beyond to be courteous, thanks.”

Remembering their better selves

This is certainly no magic cure, but I share it for those of you looking for one more tool for your own family, in case it's the one that shifts things back into kindness for you too. I think by using the terms “above and beyond” it helps them think about how they might be capable for reaching for that higher level, reminding them that they are capable of getting attention by being kind and not just by being grouchy.

What do you do when your kids get into one of these moods?  Have any tips I should know?  Leave a comment!

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Getting kids into the habit of being respectful to one another