My husband and I decided to try this radical hands-off approach in our house, and it’s worked wonders. Once the referees walked off the playing field, rather than running to us in tears and tattling whenever her little sister provoked her, our four-year-old actually stuck up for herself, gained some self-confidence, and acted more like a big kid than a crybaby. On the other hand, our mischievous two-year-old soon learned that instead of getting a wildly entertaining hysterical response whenever she pestered her big sister, she got her beloved toy cat confiscated by her victim until she behaved properly.
The best part of all? Instead of having to listen to screaming, crying, and everybody’s exaggerated version of the story, we got to shake our heads and say, “We’re not getting involved. Work it out girls,” and go back to reading a magazine. In a very short time, our kids have learned that they can either resolve their problems together or they will both find themselves alone in their rooms, regardless of who started what . . . because in our view, it takes two to tango, so whenever we’re forced to don our black robes and send down a ruling, all parties are found guilty and sent up river (OK . . . upstairs).
Not only has this change been liberating, it’s actually reduced the number and duration of sibling squabbles. Somehow taking Mom and Dad out of the picture just deflates the entire overblown situation. If we shrug our shoulders and act like it’s no big deal, the kids quickly realize that it probably is too and go from screeching over couch cushion space to sharing a blanket in less than two minutes.
Are we allowing our home to become a dog-eat-dog battlefield? Of course not. The number of skirmishes has actually gone down dramatically and has allowed us to focus on continuing to teach empathy: “Your sister’s not feeling well today, so why don’t we let her pick the video tonight and maybe you could let her sleep with that giraffe she loves to take from your bed?” and compromise: “How about I give your sister a piggy back ride upstairs and we read bedtime stories in your room?” Becoming benevolent teachers of kindness instead of the reluctant judges of the world’s most ridiculous arguments is the best job change you’ll ever make.
The kids will always, whether they are 28-months-old or 28-years-old, desire your love, praise, and attention. Turn your energy into giving them that love, instead of worrying about which child used the other guy’s crayons. As long as you treat them fairly, teach them how to be kind, considerate people, and let them know with every word, gesture, and smile that you love them unconditionally, you will be giving your children exactly what they need. And if what comes around goes around, they’ll reciprocate that love, not only to you, but to their siblings as well.