Saturday, August 2, 2014

Forgiveness Boobies

Sibling rivalry and general toddler antics are serious topics when it comes to trying to raise securely attached, peaceful children. When toddlers fight, parental response seems vital, both to encourage life long skills and normal social behavior but also because the parent is creating family roles, consciously or not. In response to these situations, I've developed something I call, "Forgiveness Boobies." Sounds silly, but it works.

My two toddlers getting some forgiveness boobies.

Those times when the toddlers have switched to primal responses, such as hitting each other, yelling, fighting over toys, etc, represent a situation where parents can fall into a role of judgment.

Should we stop both parties, put them on trial and enact a judgment against the one we consider guilty? Do you ask question after question, attempting to decide who started it or who was originally at fault? Do you then begin another round of questioning to determine who is lying? Do you finally decide to punish both children, or to deprive them of the coveted object? Do you grapple with forcing one child to submit an apology to the other? Maybe you pop a squat, and put a hand on each shoulder, and firmly demand affection. "HUG ALREADY! HUG! I MEAN IT! A REAL HUG!"

Most parents, when faced with this situation, have a natural instinct to force the children to make amends. Most parents desire the children to apologize to each other, to forgive, and to once again enjoy each other's presence. It's just that the way of going about this often causes the exact opposite in our children. And it's not surprising why. If you thought a coworker for example wronged you, or hit you, or stole something from you, it'd probably piss you off if your boss forced you to hug him and spend the rest of the day together.

This is about everything except getting along.
I grappled over how to respond to sibling fighting. I disagree with being detective and judge. I don't want to stumble upon two toddlers fighting and decide who is at fault and who deserves punishment. Even if I could be sure that I was 100% accurate each time, it does nothing to repair their sibling relationship or to encourage self-regulation and calming skills. All it teaches them is to be the one who is right, or the one who never gets caught if being right fails.

I disagree with forced apologies. (I'm still one who will certainly remind a child that a social response is considered normal, the same as saying "thank you" or "please.") I most definitely grimace at the thought of forcing two people who recently hurt each other and have strong emotions of dislike, rage, and pain to physically touch each other or else face punishment from an authority figure. Something about that feels sickly...if you think about it for a moment.

On the other hand, I also disagree with many of the methods suggested in the gentle parenting circles. Contrary to popular thought, two rambunctious toddlers who have barely progressed past the grunting troll stage and who have the social skills of blind monkeys abandoned on an island are never going to randomly make amends and figure it out on their own while I sip my tea in the other room. Except for the most advanced or fair personalities, most children in such a situation will beat the bacon out of each other, perhaps giving up when they are no longer able to stand upright. Parenting is about getting your butt off the couch and parenting, yes, even in non-violent and gentle homes.

So, over time, I've turned to Forgiveness Boobies. These boobies do a lot when it comes to two stressed out, upset, hurting toddlers. It reminds them that I'm here to help and not to pass judgment or cause more hurt. It centers their attention onto me, so if I need to share any wisdom or guidance, they are more likely to hear me instead of being caught up in their situation and feelings. It naturally orients them towards each other, yet the connection is indirect enough that it's different from being forced to do things such as give out hugs.

Physical contact is powerful. It calms. It soothes. Breastfeeding together grounds them. It grounds them to me, but by doing so, it also grounds them to each other. As they are sniffling, wiping tears, latched onto each side, I see a hand tentatively reach for the other. I see them make little eye darts to one another, perhaps mentally realizing the hurt they caused or the hurt they received. Their pounding hearts slow. Their bodies start to relax. After a few minutes, they lean into each other, recovered.

Usually, I calmly summarize the situation. We sometimes pause as one or the other person unlatches to give his input. "I saw that Ian wanted to play with the green car. Ciaran was already playing with it. Ian quickly grabbed the green car instead of asking. Ciaran threw another car at him. It's ok to want a car, but it's important to ask first. And it's ok to be angry, but we don't throw cars at people. ....etc etc etc..."

After a few minutes, both kids are calmed down and we've established what happened and discussed different ways to act in the future. Forgiveness boobies have completed their mission again, and the kids run off to play together.

For children who are weaned or cases where only one child nurses, this method could be improvised as a family time-in, where the mother spends time physically cuddling with the children, perhaps doing something rhythmic such as singing or reading a book together. If your children frequently fight, it might make sense to stack pertinent books (lying, hitting, using manners, etc) in a "time in" corner with a comfortable chair or couch where you can sit with all of them and read the book most related to the situation.

Another option is to consider tandem baby wearing for those children who are younger but weaned and/or not tandem nursing. I've noticed that when I tandem wear, the kids seem to reconnect really well:

The 2 year old and the baby fell asleep holding hands at the store.

Whatever eventually works for you and your children, the main points remain: you guide them towards resolution skills, processing negative emotions, and learning to forgive and reconnect with others. These are life long skills sure to help them in many ways as they grow older.

Related blog posts:

Tandem nursing

Tandem wearing

Sibling bonding

Siblings without rivalry book

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