Our Get Along Shirt Guest Post by Dr. Laura Markham

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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Dr. Laura Markham is the Author of “Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids” and I am honored that she is here today. At the end of today’s post you can enter to win a copy of her book!  Check out my review of the book here.


Cover of BookYour children are squabbling—again!—and it’s driving you over the edge. What do you do?

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.

Basically, you:

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.”

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18 Replies to “Our Get Along Shirt Guest Post by Dr. Laura Markham”

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  2. These photos make me sad. The kids now have photos of themselves being punished on the internet where anyone from around the world can see them. These photos will quite likely exist somewhere forever, with lots of people laughing at them in their misery and humiliation. Even if you thought it was a useful thing to do to the kids, posting it on the internet is cruel.

  3. How I wish my parents’ parents had been able to read this when they were young. Or probably their parents before them. German origin, you know.
    I grew up thinking being angry was a sin. And yes, I learned to be sneaky, passive-aggressive, whiny, complaining, resentful, self-sacrificing and resenting that too.
    My marriage would have had a better chance. I wouldn’t feel that so much of what went wrong was my fault.

    • Kay,

      Thank you for sharing so honestly. What a powerful line “I grew up thinking being a baby was a sin”. I have never thought of it in these terms, but it surely is accurate, isn’t it?

      I don’t know if this is true for you, but once I admitted my worst traits I could move beyond them more easily. Not only that- I didn’t have to have them anymore. That’s not only a gift for my children and husband, that’s a gift for me.

      I’m glad that you are here Kay.

  4. I was very happy to read your view on this picture. Every time I see it I cringe. I was the little sister constantly bullied by my brother who was two and a half years older. We were both punished EVERY time. All it taught me was that life is unfair. I raised my children differently.

  5. Just want to say thank you so much for hosting this article, I never liked those pictures of the kids in the shirts as they always looked so shamed and miserable 🙁

    Now I have been able to link people right to this blog post whenever I see friends sharing pictures of those poor kids. Dr Laura is much more eloquent than I could be I’m sure!

  6. I was actually searching for Dr. Laura’s response to this internet idea, and didn’t see it on her website, so I was thrilled to (easily) find it here. I just searched “Get along shirt” and you were on the top of the first page. Nice!

    Anyway, I have heard parents argue, like Megan does, that it creates laughter and reminds kids how much fun they have together. But, the points Dr. Laura makes about being in control of their own bodies is so very important. So, if you want to redirect and get kids laughing, start rough housing with them, instead of stuffing them inside a shirt they can’t get out of. Whenever my kids have excess energy, they start turning on each other. So, I start throwing them on the bed. They LOVE it, and become bonded to each other because I make it a “mom vs. kids” game. How about problem solving (we do this with sharing toys DAILY, and it works) so you actually find a solution to the underlying problem, instead of a bandaid?

    Thanks, Dr. Laura for your, as always, empathetic and sensible response to yet another internet “brainstorm.” I’m not sure if you’ve responded to the mom’s ransom box yet, but here’s a great post about it from one of my favorite bloggers: http://www.jennifermcgrail.com/2012/07/i-stole-your-stuff-now-im-holding-it-for-ransom/

  7. Thank you! I recently saw a picture like this on a list of parenting advice and when I read the comments people reacted strongly to a lot of the advice but not a single one responded to this! This has got to be the worst parenting idea ever. I am not one of these people who tolerate a lot from children. I am a nanny and everything I do is out of love but I have very firm boundaries and I have no problem when kiddos get upset that they are not getting their way. I guess I am saying that I don’t let kids walk all over me. I’m not really for spanking unless it’s a life threatening thing like a 3 year old that will just not listen about walking into the street or running away at a shopping mall but I am only ok with it if they child has the words to talk to you about the why (I have never had to do this yet but we came close… I think mom broke down and spanked at the mall once). That said… this putting kids in a shirt together is caveman to me. What wasn’t listed as a con and was the first thing that came to me is that it teaches them they don’t need to respect other peoples physical boundaries. Not good at all!

  8. Lily,

    I don’t see time outs as aggressive though I suppose it’s how you implement it. I watched a child that would kick and bite and scream and hyperventilate when upset from the moment she could walk. The only approach was to leave her in her own space until she was ready to talk. I felt that with her it was actually honoring her needs more than forcing her to work something out immediately. That said if she was put in a place with toys she would start playing and a resolution would not happen because if you tried to talk to her she would start to tantrum again. Left alone in a corner or zipped into her crib she would calm down and decide when to call us in and talk about it. I don’t see any other way to deal with this.

  9. My parents did something similar, but in a different way. Specific types of fights (usually about chores or being in each other’s way) incited the effective “we will work together” suit. It involved tying us up like a three-legged racing team. It wasn’t really about not fighting with each other; we had to learn to put our differences aside and get the job done *together*. We did actually learn about discussion and compromise, because we couldn’t just say, “I’ll do this half of the room my way, and you do that half of the room your way.” We HAD to find a method that we could both agree on, so there was often a good talk about “I want to do this and here’s why” before we could even get started. It wasn’t a punishment, it was a teaching method that allowed our parents to take a backseat while we learned to find a productive middle ground. To this day, we still agree on very little and get into heated arguments about… pretty much everything; but if you give us a task and tell us to get it done together, we can do that. Being tied together is optional, though, heh.

    • Oh, and we were at least twelve when they started that, so they didn’t just skip the sitting down with us step and toss us into the Get Along situation. By that point, we already had the basic skills; the third leg just forced us to use them, without direct parental involvement.

  10. Love this. Would I want someone to do this to my husband and me when we’re arguing? I don’t want to be shamed. Children especially are so vulnerable. And shame is so damaging. Life-long damaging.

  11. Do parents really think this is going to work, or are they actually just interested in garnering some attention for themselves by creating a ‘funny’ photo on Facebook?

  12. I agree with you. If my parents ever tried to do that to me or my brother (we’re fraternal twins, and both of us can get very good at teamwork when we want to) that shirt would be on the ground, and probably in shreds for good measure, before our parents could take that photo. It just wouldn’t work.