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Parents routinely believe the greatest gift they can give their child is a sibling to grow up with, but this thought can be quickly shattered when these same children erupt and attack each other physically or verbally.


Wading into sibling conflict can feel like tricky territory.

On one hand, a parent will feel propelled to protect the child who is under attack, but what about your other child who is also full of frustration? How can adults lead through incidents while at the same time preserving their relationship with each child?

Sibling conflict is an area parents long for quick fixes. In reality, it is maturity that should provide the ultimate answer to their uncivilized ways of relating with each other. Until then, we are going to have to take the lead.

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There are a few things to keep in mind as you try to take charge when your kids are struggling with each other.

1. Control the circumstances, not the child

When kids struggle, they need adults who will step in and take an active role in stabilizing the chaos that has erupted. This may mean dealing with things in the moment and simply addressing them with statements such as, “This isn’t working,” “This needs to stop,” “Brothers aren’t for hitting,” or, “Sisters aren’t for yelling at.”

It is important to try and control the circumstances around the kids rather than to control an out-of-control child. If they need to separate from each other, try to do it in a non-shaming way such as, “We need to take a break,” or “I am going to help you find something else to do because this is not working out right now.” You may also decide to address the problem between them at a time when they can emotionally hear you.

For kids it can also be a source of wounding when they see their adults fail to jump in to intervene in difficult situations with their siblings. Adults need to be counted on as protectors and guides—if they let a child down this way continuously, the relationship with their adult can suffer.

2. Focus on understanding, not judgement

In order to protect your relationship with both kids, it is best not to play the role of judge and jury. If the focus on intervening is about fairness and understanding who is to blame, at some point one child will feel you are being less loyal to them and the incident will quickly transform into a relational one with you.

What you can do instead is to listen and acknowledge each child’s side and their frustration. For example, “You are upset because your sister yelled at you,” and, “You are upset because you were pushed in return.” While letting them know this isn’t how we deal with problems, you can convey that you understand how they are feeling.

To come to each child’s side emotionally conveys that you are with them, and allows you to address the problem with their behavior. For example, “I see you are both upset so I am going to help you with how we are going to share this toy.”

With older kids who have had a hard day at school and are taking their frustration out on a sibling, for example, you might come alongside them and say, “I can see you had a frustrating day and it needs to come out, your younger sister is not the person this should happen with. I am here and I will help you with this.”

When you focus on helping kids understand the emotions that drove them to act this way, you are better positioned to help them act differently the next time. It is emotion that drives behavior and that is where we want to do our work.

In order to hold onto more than one child at the same time, it is also important to bridge the problem behavior and convey a desire to be with each child despite conduct. If it is necessary to talk to each child later, after the incident, it may be best to do this one on one rather than together.

3. Use your relationship to solicit good intentions

The stronger your relationship with your child,, the more you can influence them to act differently the next time they are having problems. In debriefing incidents you can solicit their good intentions by asking them to, “Call me when you need help,” or “Share your toys and take turns,” or “Use your words to communicate.”

While they may still lose their good intentions in the heat of the moment, it does pave the way for them to consider how they can act differently and reiterates your expectations.

It also helps to keep in mind that when kids are emotionally overloaded, they know much better than they can behave (this goes for adults too). Emotional maturity takes time and patience. We need to keep our relationship with our kids strong so they can continue to mature and be guided by us.

4. Impose order through structure and routine

When kids struggle with each other it may be helpful to consider the overall structure they are operating under, as well as imposing some routine.

For example, if young kids are left alone, it is likely that they will engage in territorial battles over toys or people. This is the same for poorly supervised playgrounds and school recesses.

An important part of a child’s environment and structure should involve supervision by adults who can step in and provide guidance for their interactions. For older kids it might involve being in earshot so as to counter inappropriate ways of relating.

In terms of routine, when things are left open to interpretation, there is more leeway to fight over how things should be done. If you have specific routines in place, such as who goes first and how you will share things, there is less that is up for grabs.

5. Remind them about what they have in common

To cultivate a stronger attachment between siblings, it is helpful to play matchmaker by pointing out their similarities and areas of sameness. To activate their instincts of belonging and loyalty, get them working together on something, or playing and having fun with you.

It is also helpful to enlist the older child to take on a ‘big sibling’ role and point them towards helping their sibling. When a child is in the position of helper, it will move them out of competing and into the position of caring.

Bottom line: The only way to truly avoid sibling conflict is to only have one child. Conflict is something that comes with the territory of taking care of more than one immature being at a time. Conflict is also part of human relationships as we navigate having different feelings and needs from each other.

We need to lead through conflict, preserve our relationship with each child, and help them understand the emotions that drive them. We need to preserve order, point them towards a more civilized form of relating and be patient until maturity delivers, with our help, an emotionally mature, reflective, independent, and tempered individual.

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In the middle of that postpartum daze, the sleepless nights, the recovery, the adjustment to a new schedule and learning the cues of a new baby, there are those moments when a new mom might think, I don't know how long I can do this.

Fortunately, right around that time, newborns smile their first real smile.

For many mothers, the experience is heart-melting and soul-lifting. It's a crumb of sustenance to help make it through the next challenges, whether that's sleep training, baby's first cold, or teething. Each time that baby smiles, the mother remembers, I can do this, and it's worth it.

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Dayna M. Kurtz, LMSW, CPT a NYC-based psychotherapist and author of Mother Matters: A Holistic Guide to Being a Happy, Healthy Mom, says she sees this in her clinical practice.

"One mother I worked with recounted her experience of her baby's first smile. At eight weeks postpartum, exhausted and overwhelmed, she remembered her baby smiling broadly at her just before a nighttime feeding," Kurtz says. "In that moment, she was overcome by tremendous joy and relief, and felt, for the first time, a real connection to her son."

So what is it about a baby's smile that can affect a mother so deeply? Can it all be attributed to those new-mom hormones? Perhaps it stems from the survival instincts that connect an infant with its mother, or the infant learning social cues. Or is there something more going on inside our brains?

In 2008, scientists in Houston, TX published their research on the topic. Their study, "What's in a Smile? Maternal Brain Responses to Infant Facial Cues", takes data from the MRI images of 26 women as they observed images of infants smiling, crying, or with a neutral expression.

The images included the mother's own infant alternated with an unknown infant of similar ethnicity and in similar clothing and position. In each image, the baby displayed a different emotion through one of three facial expressions; happy, neutral, or sad. Researchers monitored the change in the mothers' brain activity through the transitions in images from own-infant to unknown-infant, and from happy to neutral to sad and vice versa.

The results?

"When first-time mothers see their own baby's face, an extensive brain network appears to be activated, wherein affective and cognitive information may be integrated and directed toward motor/behavioral outputs," wrote the study's authors. Seeing her infant smile or cry prompts the areas of the brain that would instigate a mother to act, whether it be to comfort, care for, or caress and play with the baby.

In addition, the authors found that reward-related brain regions are activated specifically in response to happy, but not sad, baby faces. The areas of the brain that lit up in their study are the same areas that release dopamine, the "pleasure chemical." For context, other activities that elicit dopamine surges include eating chocolate, having sex, or doing drugs. So in other words, a baby's smile may be as powerful as those other feel-good experiences.

And this gooey feeling moms may get from seeing their babies smile isn't just a recreational high—it serves a purpose.

This reward system (aka dopaminergic and oxytocinergic neuroendocrine system) exists to motivate the mother to forge a positive connection with the baby, according to Aurélie Athan, PhD, director of the Reproductive & Maternal Psychology Laboratory (a laboratory that created the first graduate courses of their kind in these subjects).

These networks also promote a mother's ability to share her emotional state with her child, which is the root of empathy. "A mother cries when baby cries, smiles when baby smiles," Athan says.

While there's a physiological explanation underlying that warm-and-fuzzy sensation elicited by a smile, there may be other factors at play too, Kurtz says.

"In my clinical practice, I often observe a stunning exchange between a mother and her baby when the latter smiles at her. A mother who is otherwise engaged in conversation with me may be, for that moment, entirely redirected to focus on her little one," Kurtz says. "This kind of attention-capturing on the part of the baby can enable and cultivate maternal attunement—a mother's ability to more deeply connect with her infant. The quality of attunement in early childhood often sets the stage for one's relationship patterns in the future."

Whether a physiological response, a neural activation, simple instinct, or the tightening of emotional connection, the feeling generated by babies' smiles is a buoy in the choppy ocean of new parenthood.

And while the first smile may be the most magical by virtue of its surprise and the necessity of that emotional lift, the fuzzy feeling can continue well into that baby's childhood and beyond. It keeps telling parents, you've got this!

[This was originally published on Apparently]

Life

Chrissy Teigen is one of the most famous moms in the world and definitely one of the most famous moms on social media.

She's the Queen of Twitter and at least the Duchess of Instagram but with a massive following comes a massive dose of mom-shame, and Teigen admits the online comments criticizing her parenting affects her.

"It's pretty much everything," Teigen told Today, noting that the bulk of the criticism falls into three categories: How she feeds her kids, how she uses her car seats and screen time.

"Any time I post a picture of them holding ribs or eating sausage, I get a lot of criticism," she explained. "Vegans and vegetarians are mad and feel that we're forcing meat upon them at a young age. They freak out."

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Teigen continues: "If they get a glimpse of the car seat there is a lot of buckle talk. Maybe for one half of a second, the strap slipped down. And TV is another big one. We have TV on a lot in my house. John and I work on television; we love watching television."

Teigen wants the shame to stop, not just for herself but for all the other moms who feel it. (And we agree.)

"Hearing that nine out of 10 moms don't feel like they're doing a good enough job is terrible," she said. "We're all so worried that we're not doing all that we can, when we really are."

The inspiration for Teigen talking publicly about mom-shame may be in part because of her participation in Pampers' "Share the Love" campaign. But even though Teigen's discussion coincides with this campaign, the message remains equally important. Advertising can be a powerful tool for shifting the way society thinks about what's "normal" and we would much rather see companies speaking out against mom-shame than inducing it to sell more stuff.

Calling out mom-shame in our culture is worth doing in our lives, our communities and yes, our diaper commercials. Thank you Chrissy (and thank you, Pampers).

News

Dear fellow mama,

I was thinking about the past the other day. About the time I had three small boys—a newborn, his 2-year-old brother and his 5-year-old brother.

How I was always drowning.

How I could never catch my breath between the constant requests.

How I always felt guilty no matter how hard I tried.

How hard it was—the constant exhaustion, struggling to keep my home any kind of clean or tidy, how I struggled to feed my kids nutritious meals, to bathe them and clean them and keep them warmly dressed in clean clothing, to love them well or enough or well enough.

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Those years were some of the toughest years I have ever encountered.

But mama, I am here to tell you that it doesn't last forever. Slowly, incrementally, without you even noticing, it gets easier. First, one child is toilet trained, then the bigger one can tie his own shoelaces, then finally they are all sleeping through the night.

It's hard to imagine; I really really get it.

It is going to get easier. I swear it. I'm not saying that there won't be new parenting challenges, that it won't be the hardest thing you have ever done in your life. It will be. But it will get easier.

These days, all of my kids get the bus to school and back. Most of them dress themselves. They can all eat independently and use the toilet. Sometimes they play with each other for hours leaving me time to do whatever I need to do that day.

I sleep through the night. I am not constantly in a haze of exhaustion. I am not overwhelmed by three tiny little people needing me to help them with their basic needs, all at the same time.

I can drink a hot cup of coffee. I do not wish with every fiber of my being that I was an octopus, able to help each tiny person at the same time.

I am not tugged in opposite directions. I don't have to disappoint my 3-year-old who desperately wants to play with me while I am helping his first grade bother with his first grade reading homework.

And one day, you will be here too.

It's going to get easier. I promise. And while it may not happen today or even next week or even next month, it will happen. And you will look around in wonder at the magnificent people you helped to create and nurture and sustain.

Until then, you are stronger and more resilient than you can even imagine.

You've got this. Today and always.

Love,

A fellow mama

Life

I am broken.

It has happened again and I am breaking even more. Soon, the pieces will be too small to put back together.

The negative pregnancy test sits on my bathroom sink like a smug ex-lover. I am left pleading, How could you do this to me again? I thought it would be different this time. I had hope.

We are still trying. It has been 11 months and 13 days and there has been no progress. No forward momentum. No double solid lines. The emptiness of the space where the line should be mocks me.

I am broken.

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No amount of planning and scheming and effort is enough. I am not enough because I cannot make a chemical reaction happen at the exact moment it needs to happen. I cannot do what I want but oh how I wish I could.

It almost happened once. Two months ago, I felt different. Sore breasts and aware of the world like never before. I felt not empty. The blankness had been replaced by someone. I was sure of it. And I was late. Six days late and I thought this is it.

I didn't rush to test because I didn't want to jinx it. Or perhaps I just didn't want to let go of that string of hope. Without evidence that you're not actually here, I can pretend that you are.

So I waited. And I Googled early pregnancy symptoms and I kept an eye out for red spots I hoped I would never see. I finally couldn't wait any longer and decided the next morning would be the test.

But when I woke up, I knew it was just me. The feeling I had been feeling was gone and I knew, just knew, what I would find.

This test had words instead of lines. 'Not pregnant' it blared loudly, obnoxiously, insensitively.

I am broken.

It was four in the morning and I stood in my tiny bathroom apartment silently sobbing. Alone.

Perhaps you were there for a brief moment, but then you were gone.

I stared again at the stick.

Not pregnant.

Not pregnant.

Not pregnant.

It was taunting me now.

I wrapped it in a paper towel. Walked down three flights of stairs to the front of my building and threw it in the garbage can outside.

Later, when my husband woke, I told him I was wrong. There was nothing there after all.

And I mourned. All day long, I mourned. While I walked to work. While I said hello to my co-workers. While I answered questions and pretended to smile and tried not to think of the broken body I was living in.

The next day the blood arrived. Furious. Both of us infuriated it was there once again.

Can I keep doing this?

Am I broken?

Will I get to the point where I just… stop? Stop hoping. Stop praying. Stop wishing. Stop. Trying.

Am I broken? Or can I keep going?

Life
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