We have two children. Our son, Milo, is 9 years old and 23 months younger is his sister, our daughter, Aspen (7 years old). For most of their lives they have been the best of friends, getting along well and being very thoughtful to each other. But recently it has been really tricky. They have been short with each other, winding each other up and generally being unkind towards each other. Some days they just can't stand to be with one another and seem to argue and tell tales constantly. It's exhausting. Millie and I have been feeling weary, burnt out and frustrated.
As parents, we are pretty firm with the screen usage of our children - we try to limit them and keep an eye on what they're using but even then, somehow, we experienced bad attitudes and resistance when their time was up, despite clear reminders that their time limit was approaching. The bad mood after coming off screens just fed into the battle they were having with each other. So Millie decided that we needed an intervention - she gave the kids pre-warning that we needed to work on their friendship. We reminded them of good times they have had and explained that we needed to place some value on this and try to build it again. While rebuilding friendship was a focus, we explained that we would need to use the time the children would normally have on screens and so we would have a no-screen week. This went down surprisingly well and it was encouraging to know they were keen to work on their friendship too.
We experienced an ounce of success and wanted to share it with you in case it helped you and your kids at home (or at school if you're a teacher) too. It also makes us feel better to process it and share!
When Millie shared her ideas about this restoration project with me, I was reminded of a cartoon that our daughter used to watch - Doc McStuffins - on the Disney Channel. In it, a little girl, the daughter of a doctor, would diagnose and fix different toys that she had or would encounter. So I created a game based on that show that we would play with our kids and thought of a way it could also have a deeper lesson for their lives.
"Aspen! Milo! I have a great game we can play, come to the living room" I shouted through the house. The urgency in my voice filled them with anticipation. They came and sat down on the couch. "I've had this idea. We're going to play a brand new game I just made up and we can all play together. I think it's going to be really good. It's called Doc McStuffins. What does Doc McStuffins do?"
"She fixes toys!" exclaimed Aspen, "ooh, are we going to fix our toys?"
"Kind of," I replied "we need to have a really good idea of what is needed to fix your toys and we need to have a professional discussion to make sure we know what is best for your toys. Milo, we need a notebook and pen to be able to take notes. Then, can you find two or three toys each that need fixing somehow?" They were excited to start and so Milo grabbed a notebook and pen, followed by three of his toys that needed fixing and Aspen got Millie and a few toys that needed fixing.
I wrote some headings in the book:
We had four patients to work on:
- Aspen's GGPa Bear - a bear made from the shirts of her late Great Grandpa. We diagnosed the bear with leprosy as his arm had fallen off (excuse my ignorance!) He was put into surgery with Doctor Aspen and Doctor Millie.
- Milo's Big Bear, Stuffy - he had a cut on the back of his neck. Milo measured it using a ruler and at 6.5cm, estimated that he might need around 50 stitches. Doctor's notes read: "Brown thread if possible. Please remove random hair on lower back".
- Aspen's dog, Roly - he had a broken leg that needed to be fixed. He required an operation that would have needed a big cut in his fur, so Milo added in big letters: SENIOR DOCTOR NEEDED.
- Milo's cuddly octopus - he had a cut and some loose stitching that needed some help too.
We got to work, teaching the kids to sew and working out how to glue Roly's leg back together. Aspen went around with a toy syringe, ensuring all of the appropriate areas had been anaesthetised and even checked heartbeats with a toy stethoscope. Stuffy indeed needed a lot of stitches and so Aspen finished up her GGPa bear and moved onto stitching up Milo's cuddly octopus.
We could see they were slowly coming to the end of the fixes and so began to share some thoughts made tangible through the afternoon's activities. We used language like symptoms, prescription and notes.
"Mummy and I have noticed some symptoms in your friendship recently. Some of the symptoms have been: arguing; rudeness; unkindness to each other. So what we have done for next week is thought about what the prescriptions should be, what actions we could do that help to stitch up the hole that is in your brother-sister relationship. We have been taking notes along the way, seeing what might work best, whether brown thread or blue thread is the best option, trying to assess how big the hole is and what we need to make it strong again."
They understood. We are yet to see how it plays out, but it was a wonderful afternoon's activities and it seemed to send the importance of their friendship home. They were definitely more aware of actions toward each other that afternoon and we are hopeful for the rest of the week. We'll have to wait and see.
Have you had experiences like this with your kids? What has worked for you? Please comment and let me know! What do you think of our idea?