When I see my kids fighting it’s hard not to get caught in reactive anger and just try to shut it down at any cost. These are the people I love most in the world and I am in charge of keeping them safe, so when they go at each other it’s painful.

In reactive anger, I yelled, pulled people apart, and separated them angrily and harshly. None of it felt great or seemed very helpful. Other times I might try to intervene calmly, but if the fighting continued I felt hopeless and powerless on the inside. On the outside, I became increasingly angry and frustrated. It was difficult to bounce back as well. My kids fighting and my reaction to it could easily ruin dinner or an outing together. They got over it, moved on, and I was still consumed by the feelings of powerlessness.

I brought my frustration to my listening partner and the play collective group I’m a part of. I wanted to try and better understand my own reactions. What I realized was the worst moment for me is when I try and it’s not immediately better. I feel like I’m failing, and I feel powerless to stop the fighting. Examining the situation further, I realized how unrealistic it is to assume anything I do would get the fighting to stop on a dime. I also saw my efforts were half-hearted because I was pretty sure they were going to fail. Essentially I was setting myself up to fail to stop the fighting and then feeling shitty because my efforts didn’t work. 

I needed a new perspective. What if I assumed that no matter how awesome of a parent I am, or how connected I am or how much-connected parenting I do my kids will still fight? This seems more realistic. Siblings fight. My response can have a positive or negative impact but I can never eradicate sibling fighting completely. This is a huge relief. My kids will fight. It is NOT my job to ensure they never fight. That’s impossible. It’s not a personal failure on my part if they are fighting. It’s normal and it sucks. I can do a lot to ensure my kids have good relationships.  I can intervene calmly and set loving limits to keep everyone safe. There is a lot I CAN do but extinguishing sibling fighting is probably just not one of those things.

I also uncovered that my kids fighting lands differently for me based on how I feel. If I am in a good place internally it’s easier to redirect them and move on. If I’m on edge they’re fighting becomes the last straw and all my stress combusts for a potential explosion on them. I also saw an important pattern that led to the spiral of despair. If I was on edge and I tried to intervene, playfully or calmly and it didn’t work, and then I’d go into a spiral of despair where I believed I was failing and this was hopeless. It was empowering to see these patterns. Now I had a clear way to avoid the despair spiral.

I developed a new approach when I was struggling internally and close to my edge. If no one was in physical danger, I’d give myself permission to take a break in another room versus intervening when it was unlikely to go well. If my cup is full and my emotional backpack is light, I can intervene with playfulness or a loving limit. I want to send the signal, this is not OK and it needs to stop. With a calmer mind and nervous system, I could think clearly, focusing more on what my children needed and how to best respond.  My reactive anger only added fuel to the fire. Responding from a place of calm was empowering for me because I felt more effective as a parent and how I intervened was also much more likely to be successful.

Sometimes, although rarely, when I had the bandwidth to be playful I would access my creativity to intervene with these sibling fights. I would do silly things to shift the mood and focus by walking into the room with underwear on my head. I would act totally normal, and when they said something about the underwear on my head I pretended I didn’t know what they were talking about.  Or I would turn on some music and dance a crazy dance like no one is watching.

Thought For the Day

Our kids’ behaviors can be very triggering especially when it’s reoccurring hurtful behavior like sibling fights. We may want to 100% focus on them and what’s happening with them and why they are fighting which can be helpful. I have found it equally helpful to see what is happening for me in these moments. You can begin to ask yourself, where I am getting stuck, what big feelings am I having, and what do I need? When and if you are in a bad place it is unlikely you will be able to set a loving or playful limit. What’s happening inside of you will spill all over the situation and if you are struggling it will be like pouring gasoline on a fire.  

Quick Win

What can you do instead? Write three ways you know you are close to your edge. (Tense, rigid, exhausted, etc.) Now write three things you can do instead of intervene when you see your kids fighting that will support you in the moment (assuming no one is getting physically hurt). (Text a friend funny angry emojis, use Rage Break, take a shower) What calms you and feels comforting?

You got this! You are doing a great job! I’d love to hear what ideas you use to re-calibrate. 

~Michelle

Mindfulness Informed Professional

Michelle Puster M.Ed.

Helping burned out parents find inner calm and compassion

440 Cobia Drive Suite 1301

Katy, TX 77494

832.361.1547