“He did it deliberately!” Dealing with sibling woes

Posted by Samantha on March 21, 2012 in Connection, Empathy |

Is he doing it deliberately?

Here’s a story from yesterday.  It’s post-school and pre-dinner.  Never the greatest time of day for my two hungry children!

I’m preparing our meal in the kitchen and the next thing I know there’s a 5 year old year old girl standing wailing at me.  It seems her 7 year old brother has knocked over the Hama bead creation she’s been working on, there are Hama beads everywhere (tiny little plastic beads for those of you who don’t know – very tedious to pick up!), the culprit has refused to help pick them up, and has now disappeared apparently unrepentant.

So it’s all pretty average stuff!  In a fraction of a second I remind myself that I don’t need to solve anything.  What’s called for is empathy.  I know how to do that!  Hurray.

“He’s knocked over my beads”, she wails.  “Oh no”, I say.  “That’s pretty upsetting.”

“They’re all over the place and he won’t help pick them up when I ask”, she continues.  “Oh dear, that would really upset me too.” I reply.

“What do you need now?  Can I help you pick up your beads?”  “Yes, please”, she snivels.

We go into the sitting-room and start picking up beads and I start to hear more of the story, accompanied by even more sobs and some anger.

“He did it deliberately.  He thumped on the table like this.”

Here’s where it gets tricky for me.  Now I have two voices in my head.  One goes “I’m sure it wasn’t deliberate.”

This is the voice that wants to defend my son and help my daughter understand that her interpretation of malign motives may not be accurate.

Thankfully, yesterday there was another voice.  One that said, “You think he did it deliberately.”

She replied more emphatically “He DID do it deliberately.”  So I shrugged away the reluctance to malign my son and matched her emotion with my own more emphatic “You’re SURE he did it deliberately.”

And that was it!

Tears dried up.  Happiness resumed.  I returned to the kitchen.  (There actually hadn’t been that many beads knocked over at all.)

“Wow.  This empathy stuff really works”, I marvelled to myself.

Thinking about it afterwards I noticed that I often still go with the first voice.  I don’t intend to harm my daughter by speaking from this voice.  My intention is to help.  But it’s fundamentally unhelpful to speak from this voice because it is dismissing and denying my daughter’s reality.

It makes her feel “wrong” as well as wronged – by her brother and then on top of that, by me.  And that damages our connection.  And I really don’t want that.  So empathy for her in these moments also meets my need for connection with her!  How neat is that?

I feel really grateful that yesterday I somehow managed to stick with empathy.

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