Sibling rivalry is what they call it when our loving children fight with their brothers and sisters. People have written many successful books about it because we parents feel really wounded when we have to witness the children we adore being so mean to each other, and we’re eager to figure out how to stop it from happening. But alas, when we read about it we find out that this is very normal, even helpful in some ways, for when children fight with their brothers and sisters they are learning how to be in life-long relationships. Sometimes fighting is part of a lengthy relationship and resolving the conflict is a lesson that we all must learn. We need to know how to “kiss and make up” when we’ve engaged in heated disagreements with those closest to us.
When I was little my cousin and I used to fight regularly. I remember one fight when we were about 10 years old. She got mad at me and took her musical recorder and began playing it loudly as she strutted around the yard. I must have had something to say to her because I chased her around the yard, trying in vain to make her listen to me. But with the recorder being played so loudly, of course she couldn’t hear me. I was so upset over not being heard!
When my grandmother would witness my cousin and me fighting, she would call us together and tell us that if we were going to fight, she would have to ask us to “kiss and make up.” Well, that was about the last thing we wanted to do, so that was a pretty effective thing to say to us to thwart our arguments.
For most of us, witnessing our children fight is pretty upsetting. We don’t know who was in the right or in the wrong. We make the mistake of getting involved; usually we scold the older, larger child, and take the side of what we perceive is the weaker child, usually the younger one! The best thing we could do is to stay out of the fray! But we’re worried that one child might actually hurt another one and we use that as our justification to take some action. What we inadvertently do is to teach the children how to fight “dirty,” that is how to fight covertly, so that we can’t see what is truly happening, so that we’re confused, in the dark, ignorant, and out of touch.
Whenever children have issues at school, they many times come into my office and talk to each other with me as their advocate and witness. They’re learning how to express their feelings and even their needs without challenging the other person, without criticizing or blaming the other child. When this happens, we can find solutions. If we look for blame, we only find blame. So we begin by asking, “What are we looking for?” They both say, “Solutions.” I remind them that no one is in trouble and that all I want to know is what happened and how we can find a solution that works for everyone.
Each time I meet with children and dialogue in this way, I almost have to pinch myself to believe what I am witnessing. I can hardly believe my eyes and ears at what the children are saying to each other, how they are saying it, and how they are receiving it from each other. It’s almost miraculous. Only a few moments before, one child was throwing his shoe at the other child because that child broke his pencil purposefully, and now they are both calm, looking at each other and talking about how they feel. (Note a clue here: wait until the “mad” is gone from the children to help them problem solve. No one can solve a problem if anger has a hold on him, not even you! So be sure you’re calm, too.) It is at these moments I wish you were all there, right in the room with me to witness what I’m witnessing. This isn’t something children can ever explain to you; you have to be there to see and believe it. As I watch the children’s behavior, I am reminded about the wonder of the human spirit, the purity of the child’s heart, the sacredness of the child’s soul. It is in these moments I feel an overwhelming hope for the future of all of our lives. This is the vision Maria Montessori had when she envisioned a peaceful world, one created by the children, those children who are opening their hearts and minds to each other as they talk about their feelings.
Our Montessori curriculum is filled with academic challenges that are usually beyond the traditional curriculum found in other schools. That may be the reason your bright child is enrolled at this school, to get an advanced academic curriculum, to get a head start or to maintain that head start. But beyond that, harder to deliver, and even more important for the child, is the education of the personal self, the social, emotional, and human self. It’s what Montessori called the education of the “whole child.” When the whole child is considered as the curriculum is planned, what emerges is a child who is not only academically fit but who is a capable human being. And lucky for you, this kind of education is our specialty.
Director/Elementary 1 Teacher