Anxiety, big feelings, tantrums, sibling fights and more

Karen Young from the Hey Sigmund website provides some great insight and tips here into the big emotions and difficult behaviours which could be heightened at the moment

Facebook Live (During Isolation) – Anxiety, Big Feelings, Tantrums, Sibling Fights … and more.

Here are the themes Karen talks about and an indication where to find them on the video(The video’s privacy settings mean we cannot share it here but the link is below)

01:10   The ‘fight’ part of anxiety – tantrums, aggression, big feelings – why it happens and what to do.

04:20  Big feelings are a call for us to come closer (even when they don’t feel that way).

06:00  Why ‘little’ things can tip them over the edge, and how to respond.

09:25  When their anxiety triggers ours – when we fight with them instead of for them – why, and what to do.

10:50  The good news about self-regulation.

16:05  How to manage transitions.

18:10  Squabbling with your teen? This might help.

18:50  The opportunities that sit inside anxiety/anger/big feelings.

20:04  Adolescents, big feelings, regulation – what they need from us.

22:50  When big anxiety looks like big fight.

24:54  How it helps to ‘meet the energy with similar energy, but not similar anger’.

29:10  How mindfulness supports a long term strengthening of the brain against anxiety.

32:00  Dealing with other stressors on top of social isolation.

33:35  How to expand the capacity to cope with anxiety and stress.

35:15  When kids won’t talk about it.

35:25  Why some kids might be regressing at the moment (clinginess, asking for help when they haven’t needed it before).

40:00  Routines – how they help (and it’s okay if some slip).

42:17  Why does my teen hear me as ‘angry’ when I’m not?

46:37  How do we role model strength and calm when we’re feeling anxious ourselves?

49:50  Sleep – strategies to help with peaceful pillow time.

1:03:02  ‘Only children’ in social isolation.

1:05:31  Dealing with sibling squabbles

1:08:28  Social media and screen time.

Here is the link to the Hey Sigmund website and the video

Supporting sibling relationships at home during Covid-19

Here is another very valuable piece from the Finn Valley/ Springboard Family Support Project booklet “Parenting Through Covid-19 – helpful hints to keep home life happy”. This piece, on sibling relationships is written by Jo Sledge Brennan, a Family Support Worker with Springboard.

Sibling relationships are unique, authentic and invaluable, yet they can be one of the most difficult relationships to navigate as a parent. Often these relationships are filled with rivalry, jealousy and competitiveness from an early age and can be extremely frustrating, exhausting and upsetting for parent’s to handle. However, it’s good to point out that for most of us, although this conflict may be high, more often than not the good, fun days more than balance out.

As parents, it’s important we consider our part to play in encouraging positive
sibling relationships. Our children are after all, mainly in conflict with each other in order to gain more love and affection from you than their sibling/s. This rivalry can be intense but it can also have a lasting effect on children, so it’s important to remind them how much they are loved, equally, every day. Don’t be afraid to show your love, no matter what age they are. The first step to encouraging healthy sibling relationships is setting the ground rules for play for example, what behaviours are acceptable and what behaviours are not; no hitting, no name calling etc. You could get your children involved in this too. Find out what behaviours they are most annoyed by with each other, listen to them and make them ground rules so there is no confusion. This way, you’re anticipating the problems, you’re one step ahead!

It’s also important to avoid making comparisons between your children. All children have their own qualities and attributes; they are all unique. Showing an understanding of this will not only strengthen your relationship with them but it will give them a greater respect for each other and build on their own self-esteem. Children like to be seen as individuals; they are individuals. What they share with their sibling is often the same parent/s, their environment, similar experiences and similar memories but they are all individual.
There will be differences; there could be age gaps, different sexes of children,
different interests and needs but what they have in common is you, their parent.

Teach them to understand their differences and to appreciate them. Encourage them to have a good time together by noticing what activities they enjoy doing together, though this can be tough when there are age and interest gaps. In this instance, try cooking together or art, or some form of exercise that you can all do together at least one or two shared activities a day. A scavenger hunt can be good fun, or play cards, or any game or activity that puts the adults against the kids, get them playing and working together.

When there is conflict, try to step back and let them resolve it, try not to get too involved in petty battles. Moderate levels of conflict are a healthy sign that they each can express their needs or wants. If you need to step in, remind them of the ground rules. If all else fails and you need to end the play, talk to each child and listen. You could then allow them to vent, just a little and find out what went wrong before you set the ground rules for the next play. It can sometimes help to ask each child to describe how they feel and have the other child listen. All of this sounds like hard work and it is, nobody ever said that parenting was easy, but there are so many benefits to developing healthy sibling relationships, children may learn to:
• develop their social skills
• navigate power struggles
• try to compromise
• resolve conflicts
• to be assertive
• be empathetic to others’
• respect rules and values
I’m sure all of us would be very happy parents if our children developed the above qualities and attributes from your child’s first peer group; their sibling.

Short Exercise that Children and Young people can do with their siblings:

  • My favourite memory with you is ……
  • I think you are good at …..
  • Things that I like about you …..
  • Things that you do that annoy/upset me …..
  • Things I like about having a brother and/or sister …..
  • One thing I like to do together …..

More ideas and information on a variety of topics to help families get through this tough time are available in the booklet

Our thanks to Jo Sledge Brennan and the teams at Finn Valley FRC and Springboard Family Support Project for these resources.

My teenagers are fighting with each other

We are probably not used to living family life quite so intensely, with each other almost all the time at the moment. That may mean that tension rises and squabbles break out. Here are some tips from John Sharry of Parents Plus, on how to help teenagers deal with tensions and differences without fighting. This was written before we found our lives turned upside down by Corona Virus but there are a lot of good ideas in it which could be useful now.

My 16-year-old daughter has always been a strong character and a bit fiery, but recently she seems to be fighting with everyone. She is very competitive and always trying to pick fights, particularly with her younger sister who is a much more laid-back character. They are very close in age, just one year between them, and I think a lot of the conflict stems from jealousy. The younger has started to do well in school and our eldest is very competitive and puts her down.

It has got to a point where we can’t praise the youngest if she gets a good report or else the older girl will throw a tantrum. Don’t get me wrong, we try not to compare them and always try to be positive towards both of them. But to be honest, because the older girl is so negative and always in trouble recently, this is a lot harder.

Jealousy and rivalry between siblings are very common and a significant factor in many family conflicts particularly when one child is unhappy or “acting out”. Further, sibling rivalry can become particularly acute during adolescence when teenagers are trying to work out their individual identity, and what they stand for as distinct from other people in the family. At this time you may be also dealing with teenage rebellion as parents, which can make it a fraught time for everyone in the family.

Understanding sibling rivalry and competitiveness
At the heart of sibling rivalry is a fight for parents’ approval and attention. Children and teenagers frequently fear that their parents might approve or love one sibling more than another or that their parents’ approval is dependent on a certain quality or skill that their sibling might have more of. While, of course, as parents you strive to love each of your children

equally and not to pit them against each other, much of the competitive pressure comes from outside the home. The educational system and many sporting disciplines emphasise attainment that distinguishes who is the best and who is the worst. This can be particularly difficult for teenagers if they are not performing as well as their brother or sister in these areas and can lead to conflict and poor self-esteem.

While, of course, as parents you strive to love each of your children equally and not to pit them against each other, much of the competitive pressure comes from outside the home. The educational system and many sporting disciplines emphasise attainment that distinguishes who is the best and who is the worst. This can be particularly difficult for teenagers if they are not performing as well as their brother or sister in these areas and can lead to conflict and poor self-esteem.

The educational system and many sporting disciplines emphasise attainment that distinguishes who is the best and who is the worst. This can be particularly difficult for teenagers if they are not performing as well as their brother or sister in these areas and can lead to conflict and poor self-esteem.

Sibling rivalry can be inadvertently reinforced by parents’ reactions
Without meaning to, your reactions as a parent can reinforce sibling rivalry. For example, any time you praise your youngest in front of the eldest (particularly around exam achievement if this is a sensitive issue), this can make her feel more insecure and even believe that you favour the younger girl.

In addition, if during an argument you intervene on the side of one of your girls, this can leave the other feeling you favour her sister. This happens even when you intervene for a good reason such as when your eldest daughter might appear to be in the wrong or “acting up” and shouting at her sister.

Praise and encourage them equally and uniquely
To counter this you need to go out of your way to make sure you provide your two daughters not just with equal amounts of attention and encouragement but you want to avoid praise that somehow makes a comparison or implies a criticism of the other.

As it is a sensitive issue, this might mean not praising your youngest for her education grades in front of the eldest for the moment. Instead, you might want to emphasise more “non-comparable” qualities such as “doing your best” or “being proud of your hard work”. When praising the two of them you want to emphasise qualities that both girls can aspire to as well any shared strengths and interests that might bring them together.

It is also important to encourage each of their unique and individual qualities (eg one has a passion for music and the other for art) that allow them to appreciate each other differently without competition. You want each girl to find their niche and place in life.

Empower them to sort out their own disputes
It is important not to take sides in any disputes or rows they might have but rather to empower them to sort out these disputes themselves.

Your role is not to judge who is wrong but rather to be a mediator and to help them work out how to manage things. If you do need to intervene, try to address both of them – “Listen, let’s take a moment for both of you to calm down and talk this out.”

And if you do need to correct them, make sure you hold them both accountable at some level. For example, you might say to the eldest, “You should try to explain your point without shouting” and to the youngest, “You should listen to your sister without rolling your eyes.”

Help them empathise with each other
When talking to them individually about problems, never judge the other and always help them empathise with their sister. For example, you might explain privately to the youngest that her sister is sensitive to a big deal being made of exam results and explain to the oldest that her younger sister finds loud conflicts hard to deal with.

You want to communicate that you understand both of them individually and that you are on both their sides in sorting things out.

Take steps to support their relationship with each other
Do what you can to help them spend time together and to enjoy each other’s company. Simple things like sending them on a shopping trip together to buy something for the family or putting them on the same team in a family game could all help.

You could also help them learn to get on by setting them a task such as organising a family celebration or decorating a room together for which they might earn a collective treat or reward if they work as a team.

In the long term, once they become less competitive in seeking your approval and more secure in their relationship with each other, you would expect them to be able to enjoy the other’s successes and to become close, supportive sisters as they grow up.

Dr. John Sharry, Irish Times Newspaper. John writes in The Irish Times Health Plus every Tuesday. ‘Parenting Pre-Teens & Teenagers’ course with John Sharry Sunday 22nd October (9am-1pm) Talbot Hotel, Stillorgan, Dublin, details here.