5 Vital Problem Solving Skills You Need To Teach Your Kids

The Healthy Family Connections Podcast

Episode 103 · Duration: 00:14:20

5 Vital Problem Solving Skills You Need To Teach Your Kids

5 Vital Problem Solving Skills You Need To Teach Your Kids

How do parents deal with a situation where two siblings fight over everything and are competitive with each other?

Today we’re hearing from Elaina, from Toronto Canada. And Elaina writes:

I have two daughters 8 and 10 and they fight and compete all the time. I’m working on eliminating the name-calling and some of the mean behavior with some success. But here’s my problem.  Anytime I accommodate one of their needs, the other one screams No Fair.  I can’t get them to agree on an activity, a meal choice, a restaurant, anything.  I’ve tried to get them to take turns but they always claim it’s their turn and I can’t always keep track.  Do you have any advice for me to get better cooperation between them?

Thanks for your question, Elaina.  Good sibling relationships are important for lots of reasons. 

It’s the first learning laboratory for learning peer relationship skills.  It’s where issues like setting personal limits, sharing, cooperating and competing, are learned. 

And the bond they create will last their lifetime so it’s important that the bond is positive. 

Also, getting constant negative input from a sibling can hurt self-esteem and impact one’s sense of self for a lifetime. Click To Tweet So it’s really important that we help your daughters find a better balance in their relationship. 

Sure, sisters fight and argue. That’s natural. But we want the balance of some cooperation and support as well.  So let’s see what we can do here.

When Siblings Fight

Before we look at a solution, it would be important to understand why they’ve become so competitive.  I can think of a couple of likely scenarios. 

One or both of them is highly competitive by nature and that characteristic dominates their interactions.  Maybe the younger one is feistier and more engaging than the older one so she pesters and older one fights back.  Or the older one is competitive and tends to dominate and maybe you’ve protected the younger one and now she’s gotten used to that protection and expects it.  Also, it’s possible that you’ve been so accommodating that both girls think they’re supposed to get what they want on a regular basis. 

Let’s face it, there are a lot of 8 and 10-year-olds in the world who would love to be able to go out to a restaurant, any restaurant, and feel privileged to do so, so you may have been too accommodating. Perhaps, Elaina, you have the notion that you’re supposed to be making everyone happy, that that is part of your job as a Mom.  I want you and everyone to remember, it’s not your job to make your children or teenagers happy. 

It is our job to teach happiness skills and among those skills is learning to handle the reality that you don’t always get your way. Like the Stones song goes, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometime, you just might find, you get what you need.”

So let’s see if we can help your daughters get on track for a better relationship and get you out of the impossible job of making them happy.

Five Ways to Address Interpersonal Conflict

In looking for a way forward here, I’m going to borrow from my work with management teams.  When working with teams that need to work together, I sometimes use a Conflict Mode Assessment Instrument by Thomas-Kilmann.  This model identifies 5 ways that can be used to address interpersonal conflict.  Individuals tend to use some of the ways more than others.  The 5 ways include two active ways, two passive ways and one pretty much in the middle.  The idea is that all 5 ways have their time and place so they are all useful and it’s best to have balance and the ability to use all of them.  That being said, we all do have our tendencies. 

The two active conflict management modes are COMPETE and COLLABORATE.  Compete is where one person wins over the other and collaborate is where two or more people work together to solve a problem. 

The 2 passive ways are AVOID and ACCOMMODATE.  Avoid of course is just that, that you simply move on down the road and don’t address the issue and accommodate is where you simply give the other person what they want.  The mode in the middle is COMPROMISE, that’s where we each get something and give up something.  Like I said, they all have their time and place and it’s ideal if you can use the best one for a given situation.

Elaina, I think it would be terrific and very helpful for you to teach your daughters this model and challenge them to practice using it.  They may be young to expect them to get all this, after all, they are going to feel their emotions quite strongly and that can get in the way of thinking about using a skill, but if you start, after a while, they’ll get it.  And this way you can be more of a coach and less of a referee. 

A Conversation With Your Daughters

Here’s how a startup conversation might go. 

"Girls, the way the two of you fight all the time is terrible.  All you are managing to do is make each other and me miserable."

(Of course one of your girls will pipe in with something like, “It’s all her fault, she’s always mean to me.”)

You can respond with,

"I can see that and I can see how your sister could think you’re pretty mean to her too.  I obviously have not taught you two healthy ways to solve problems so I’ll take the blame, but now we’re going to change that.  Let’s discuss the right ways to solve problems."

And now Elaina, on a whiteboard on the top left write, COMPETE, on the top right write, COLLABORATE.  Ask them to discuss both of these, what they mean and how they work. 

"Yes, Compete is where one wins and one loses.  What would be the right way to complete if there is one piece of candy left and both want it. How could you compete in a healthy way?  That’s right, flip a coin, rock, paper, scissors, or something else that isn’t violent.  Remember, when you compete, there will always be someone who loses and the job of that person is to be good at sportsmanship, that you can handle not winning."

Then go on to Collaborate and ask examples of collaborating.  There are likely examples of when they worked together to build something or plan something. 

"Remember when you planned a surprise for Dad’s birthday together.  You both had good ideas and you put them together and it came out great."

Then on the bottom left of the whiteboard write AVOID and on the bottom right, write ACCOMMODATE. Ask them for an example of when they might want to use avoidance and the best way to deal with a problem.

"That’s right, when your sister makes faces to get a rise out of you or when someone is doing something annoying, then ignore it. To avoid would be a great response." 

Ask them to give some examples for accommodate; for instance when something matters to one person a lot more than it matters to the other. An example would be when one of the girl’s very favorite show is on and the other doesn’t really care, let’s give the one who cares what she wants, for instance.  Maybe one of the girls is feeling bad physically or emotionally so the other sister indulges her because it’s the right thing to do.

Now Elaina, in the middle of the whiteboard, write COMPROMISE and ask if they know what that means. 

"Yes it means that we solve a dispute by each person getting some of what they want and giving up on some of what they want. "

Ask for examples; for instance choosing an activity. One girl wants to go out and ride bikes and the other wants to play a game indoors.  The girl who wants to go out agrees to play one game if they then go out and ride bikes. Done. 

Now Elaina, when the girls get into it, ask them to assess the situation and think about which of the 5 modes they could use.  Make a chart and keep it handy so you can pull it out when you need it.  At dinner each evening, go around the table and have everyone give an example of modes they used successfully or unsuccessfully that day. 

That way, everyone is being conscious and practicing their interpersonal conflict management skills.  Becoming proficient at using different skills can become more important and be seen as having more status than fighting and arguing.

In Conclusion

So parents, and those who work with kids; don’t solve their disputes. Teach them the skills they need to solve their own disputes and remind them that in life, interpersonal conflict is going to happen all the time. Click To Tweet Those people with the best skills at solving those conflicts and using the right skill at the right time are going to be the happiest and the most successful.     

I’d like to remind you that if you’d like to consult with me for help with a situation in your family, or if you are a mental health professional in a community-based counseling center or residential treatment program and would like to discuss training or consultation, come on over to my website neildbrown.com click on contact and shoot me an email.  I’d love to help out.

And please remember to take care of yourselves.  You need it, you deserve it, you’re worth it.  Bye for now.

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Posted in The Healthy Family Connections Podcast.