Think that the “Our Get Along Shirt” is a good idea? Today’s Guest Post by Dr. Laura Markham of AhaParenting.com explains that it encourages our children to suppress their emotions rather than teaching them problem solving skills.
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1. Send them to their rooms.
2. Find an extra large adult t- shirt, use a magic marker to write on it “Our Get-Along Shirt” and put it on your children so they’re both in it at once, forced into complete bodily contact, so they’re forced to “get along” with each other.
3. Sit down with your children. Help each one express to the other what they’re upset about so they feel heard. Help each one see the others’ side so they develop empathy. Help them brainstorm so they find a win/win solution.
If #3 sounds like a lot of work, and #2 sounds like a creative solution, you’re not alone. “Get Along Shirt” photos have been making the rounds on Facebook, complete with mortified, sullen or crying children. Comments always include parents who say the photo made them crack up and they can’t wait to try it.
I can understand why parents will do anything to get their kids to stop fighting. Sibling fights are a constant in many households, and it’s not surprising that they drive parents crazy. Versions of this have been around for years; my grandfather reportedly put his three sons on the same couch until they could “get along.” But that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.
Let’s consider what this strategy teaches our children.
1. It’s not okay to disagree with their sibling.
2. The parents don’t actually know how to help them learn to work through disagreements in a respectful way, since they aren’t teaching the kids conflict resolution skills.
3. The parents don’t actually care if the kids have a good relationship, but just want them to shut up, since anyone trapped in a shirt with another person is unlikely to feel good about that relationship.
4. The parents aren’t actually concerned about helping them manage their emotions so they can work out conflicts, since the parents aren’t helping them with those challenges. The parents just want them to stuff their feelings and be quiet.
5. It teaches the smaller child to “go along” – in other words, to submit to the will of the bigger child so as not to arouse further ire from the parents.
6. It teaches the bigger child to “bully” –in other words, that he has the power to force the smaller child to go where he wants and do what he wants.
7. It teaches both kids that they don’t have the right to decide how their body is touched.
8. It humiliates both kids, so it teaches them that people with power get their way by using force to humiliate and subdue smaller people.
9. It teaches the kids that their parents will get mad if they express their emotions to each other, so they should make their attacks on each other more sneaky.
10. It makes each child more upset and angry, for which they—naturally—blame their sibling. This is the opposite of teaching the child to have empathy for their sibling’s perspective, and it pretty much insures that their relationship will get worse.
But don’t take my word for it. Some comments from parents online who remember their own childhoods:
• In my house growing up that would have made things a whole lot worse.
• As the grown child of a mom who tried something similar…it doesn’t work, and makes them less likely to get along. Sure, looks cute, but can easily make things worse!! Did you ALWAYS get along with your siblings!?! Just sayin’!
I know #3 sounds like a lot of work and you don’t always have time to help your kids settle their conflicts peaceably. But once you begin using a conflict resolution approach regularly, your children learn the skills. They begin to work out disagreements themselves before they escalate into conflicts, and there’s a lot less fighting.
Wondering how this is possible? There are scripts on the Aha! Parenting.com website that walk you through how to help children of different ages through a disagreement. Here’s an example.
1. Listen to both sides so the kids feel heard.
2. Empathize and restate: “You’re mad because he knocked down your tower.”
3. Re-state house rules (“We don’t hit”) but otherwise refrain from playing judge and deciding who’s right.
4. Help each child tell the other how she feels.
5. Help the children brainstorm a mutually agreeable solution.
Over time, your children will learn skills:
• Taking turns (“How about you push the elevator button on the way up, and I get to push on the way down plus in the parking garage?”)
• Dividing a treat (one person does the dividing, the other picks the first piece)
• Trading (“I’ll give you one of the blue ones if you give me one of your red ones”)
• Sweetening the deal (“Let’s play your game first and then my game for longer.”’)
• Teamwork (“I’ll help you with setting the table if you help me with clearing.”)
They’ll learn how to express feelings and listen with empathy.
And they’ll learn that in every human relationship, people will sometimes disagree, but can always work things out respectfully. Without having to stuff their feelings to “get along.”
Enter to win a copy of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kid by clicking here.