It’s summertime and the kids are out of school. No more stress – no more homework, no more tests, no more pressure. Kids and families should have a super summer. Yes? Well, not exactly. The pressures of the academic year are over, and initially there’s a big relief and often everyone is happy and carefree. But with lots more time on kids’ hands, even with camp and other sports activities, there’s lots more time to spend with family, and that can mean lots more chances to annoy one’s younger brother or sister, get on each others nerves, push buttons, and generally drive each other crazy. However, summertime can also be a time to heal from the year’s stresses, rejuvenate and relax, and develop closer family bonds.
You play a crucial role in creating positive interactions. Since cooperation, empathy, kindness, fair play, and self-control don’t always come naturally to children, you can teach these skills best by modeling them. Kids are great imitators. If you want to encourage kindness and generosity, let them see yours. To foster self-control, watch how you respond to frustration and anger. And to help kids develop empathy – the ability to imagine what others are feeling – share your feelings, let your kids express theirs, and encourage them to consider others. Summer is a great time to practice.
Here are six easy exercises adapted from The Power of Your Child’s Imagination to get your started:
Be a Caring Coach:
Make sure you’re on the same team, even when your child seems to be wrong. It’s easy to want to correct him when you see things so clearly from an adult perspective. But this isn’t about blame; it’s about creating a new positive beginning. Stay out of the right/wrong discussion; it’ll only cause power struggles. Instead let your child know you believe he can make the right choice when interacting with his brother or sister. When he feels you’re on his side, he’ll be more open to imaginative suggestions – and change.
Find Out What’s Under Those Big Bad Feelings:
Start by accepting and validating whatever your child is feeling about her sibling (friend, parent). Listen to any image she offers for angry or hateful feelings, then gently guide her to the core feeling, saying, “Now close your eyes, and be surprised at what’s under… (the bad feeling).” Often anger is a secondary emotion to cover up deeper wounds. When she faces the emotions under her distress, she will be closer to understanding how to release them and make peace with her sis or bro (or you).
Have Feelings Talk to Each Other:
Once he encounters what feeling is under his angry or bad feelings – and it could range from sadness to disappointment to betrayal and more – then suggest he carry on a conversation between them. Anger might chastise sadness for being such a wimp, and sadness might speak up and ask its due. Then they can negotiate for a creative compromise that can bring inner peace and outer harmony.
Consider Different Scenarios:
Invite your child to share her sibling or friend problem situation with you; then ask her to imagine how she’d like it to be. Encourage her to draw present and future possibilities. Then brainstorm how to make amends and create a win-win situation for all. Call in an imaginary protective animal friend or wise person to suggest ideas. Role-play together or write a practice script.
Write When Talk Doesn’t Work:
If you’ve been having trouble talking to each other, writing can help. Jot down your feelings, thoughts, hopes, and desires for a better relationship. Use your imagination; along with your own heart’s wisdom – they are the source of what you’d both like to create. Young kids can dictate; older ones can work on their own. Exchange notes, thanking each other, and accept whatever is written. It may make initiating a conversation easier.
Connect to Heart and Belly Wisdom:
If you’ve been encouraging your child to center daily and check in with his feelings regularly, it will be easy to ask his heart’s wisdom and gut feelings to shed light on sibling-parent-child relations. If not, now is a good time to start.
Pulling this all together, Andy, a six-year-old that spent some time visiting my office remarked, “Be kind to other people, and they will treat you like you want.”
Charlotte Reznick PhD is a child educational psychologist, an Associate Clinical Professor of Psychology at UCLA, and author of the LA Times bestselling book The Power of Your Child’s Imagination: How to Transform Stress and Anxiety into Joy and Success (Perigee/Penguin). In addition to her private practice, she creates therapeutic relaxation CDs for children, teens, and parents, and teaches workshops internationally on the healing power of children’s imagination. You can find out more about her at http://www.imageryforkids.com.