Coaching Siblings Through, "That's Mine, Give it Back!"

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"That's mine, I had it first!" Older brother shouted to younger sister as she ran and hid under the kitchen table. I wasn't sure who did have the book first so I couldn't just settle the argument. In order to figure out what to do, the kids and I had to talk things through. The end result was nothing less than a sibling breakthrough.

At first the fight was going down with accusations, threats and demands. I sat between them on the floor, got calm and coached. What happened next is a little dull on paper. It's subtle and it took a while. I'll spare you the transcript. 

But this brother/sister scene illustrated a core principle of our work as childcare providers: It's during the small moments that occur just about every day that we have the best chance to help kids learn kindness. And if we can help kids be kind during a fight, we're making huge strides in building their capacity for compassion and their integrity as a people. 

To make the most of these teachable moments we must stay close and stay kind, instead of making calls for them or leaving them completely alone to work things out. And that's not always easy or even possible. But doing it consistently (as often as possible) is key. 

Back in our scene, brother and sister were locked in a power struggle. Brother demanded the book, I suggested he try asking. It took a couple tries but he finally did. No dice - sister held tight to the book. Brother started to cry, I suggested he say how he felt. Again, it took a couple tries. I gave him the words, "I feel sad, I really want that book. Can you please give it to me?" He finally repeated and his body softened. 

Sister didn't seem swayed. I got worried. What if she didn't relent? What if she didn't care how he felt? I asked her to listen to him, reminded her that her brother said he felt sad. I let her know that she didn't have to give up the book and she could tell him why it was important to her to keep it, but if it wasn't important to her she had the chance to show kindness to her brother. She softened. She offered the book. Brother wiped his eyes and thanked his sister. 

These siblings walked away from the scene connected and closer. What started as demands became requests. Threats became I statements like, "I feel sad." Accusations fell away. Shouting turned into listening. 

Just think about the learning: That it's okay to feel sad and when you say so, the other person may just offer to help. That asking for what you want is more effective than demanding it. That listening and dropping the need to be right in favor of doing what's kind can make you feel good inside.

This type of coaching takes patience and consistency. But over time kids integrate this new way of talking into their spontaneous conversations. And consider how it translates into adulthood. Imagine your charges being able to disagree with their best friends without name calling, blaming, threatening, making assumptions or giving up. That's what I'm after - helping kids grow up confident and kind - I can't think of anything more meaningful.