If there is one thing I did out of desperation in my early years as a mom (that I don’t actually regret) it is Sibling Boot Camp. I know it sounds intense, like a lot of work. And yes, I will be honest - a lot of poster board was involved. But, this little blog series isn’t just about us “getting through summer,” it’s really about getting these kids through their childhood, and to a place where people actually like them when they are “grownies” as we say in my house. Just like Tip #1: Tattle Tax required some work up front, this tip will too. The question then, is will that work pay off? The answer my friends, in the words of every British judge on every talent competition on TV, is “a million percent yes.”
And while we all know that one cannot be a million percent anything (because that is not how math works, or maybe it is?) I don’t really care about math, the point is that I wish I was British. And also that the work for Sibling Boot Camp is definitely worth it.
Sibling Boot Camp came into existence when my oldest daughters (now 13 ½ and almost 12) were in Kindergarten and 1st grade. They were arguing consistently about who got to be first for things. It was this constant back and forth about “you got in the car first last time, now it’s my turn to get in the car first this time.” Then the other one would chime in saying “Well, you got out of the car first, so now it’s my turn to do something first so I get to get in first again.”
And then my head would explode.
So one day, on the way to school, I gave them a moving sermon in the car where I exegeted the passage of scripture about "the first being last and the last being first." When we got to school, you know what happened? That’s right, they argued about whose turn it was to get out of the car first.
I maybe lost my mind a little and I told them that they had lost the privilege of school. I added that I would not allow them to go into that building and behave like perfect angels toward their teachers and friends if they could not get along with each other. I called the school office from the parking lot and said that my girls would not be back to school until they were best friends.
They missed an entire week of school. We commenced Sibling Boot Camp. And are they now best friends?
A million percent, yes.
So, I offer you...
The Five Phases of Your Very Own DIY Sibling Boot Camp:
- Buy so much posterboard. Draw a line down the middle of the poster. At the top, write “Entitled” on one side and “Responsible” on the other.
- Run so many drills. Take some time to explain to your kids the difference between entitled behavior and responsible behavior. Once they know the difference, test them by throwing out some everyday scenarios and have them file the behaviors under the headings, either the behavior is entitled or it’s responsible. Sample 1: “Okay my fallen cherubs, it’s time to get in the car to go to school, you both want to get in first. What is an example of an entitled response?”
Sample 2: “You would both like to get in the car first, Child A offers to let Child B get in and out first, with the agreement that Child A can get in and out first on the return trip. Is this a responsible agreement, or entitlement?”
Sample 3: “Mommy gives her precious baby sinners a really lovely sermon in the car. Now, is it responsible or entitled to immediately disregard her brilliant life lessons?”
- Sibling fun is now a privilege. Reward every correct answer with 5 minutes of fun time together. Catch and reward any responsible interaction with 5 minutes of sibling fun. Try to catch them doing anything right, and give them 5 minutes. This part is key though - END the sibling time as soon as their minutes run out! They will be doing great, and will just be getting into some kind of game… but when the time’s up, it’s up. They can’t play together until they earn more minutes. This ensures that they don’t have time to get into a conflict, and because kids will often strive toward what we pull just out of their reach… they will try to earn more time together. VOILA! They are trying to earn time to play with their sibling!
Introduce quiet sister/brother talk. When our girls started consistently showing more responsible (and less entitled) interaction we would celebrate by letting them stay up late for “quiet sister talk.” This works best if you are generally bedtime nazis, which fortunately, we were. But, no matter how lax you are about summer bedtimes, add time for quiet sibling talk. Little kids love to stay up late because they are small and foolish and they don’t yet realize how wonderful sleep is. Take advantage of their folly by reserving late bed times for siblings who love each other and get along.
Sleepover City. If you have successfully made it out of DefCon 5 of sibling bickering and into Phase 5 of Sibling Boot Camp, then… congratulations. You may celebrate by manipulating the children into becoming best friends. This can be achieved by letting them have a sleepover on any non-school nights. To this day my older daughters will jam all their gangly limbs into the same top bunk bed and stay up late talking. They do it all summer long and every weekend. They tell each other everything. They whisper and giggle and make up ridiculous stories and inside jokes that turn their whispered giggles into full on belly laughs. It is magical.
They both still remember Sibling Boot Camp and I have never had to do it again. The younger three sort of followed suit and they all get along pretty well considering. We have some special circumstances which prevents them all from having the sleepovers, etc. but the overall mission remains the same. Engaging with other people is a privilege. Can that privilege be taken away if you are behaving like a child criminal? You betcha. But can it be earned back with consistency and three dollars worth of poster board?