My kids are great — 90% of the time they play well together. But every once in a while one gets mad and pinches the other one on the face! Occasional jostling … fine — but pinching on the face!? What can I do?”
To have siblings play well 90% of the time is really great! You must be an amazing parent and have wonderful children.
Sibling rivalry is very common and normal to a certain extent. Remember, children love to have their parents’ undivided attention, love and care. Depending on their age and temperament, they might need more or less of you. When there is more than one child in the mix, now they have to learn how to share. But this is not a bad thing — siblings have a great opportunity to learn and practice social and play skills – both from and with each other.
In younger children (under 36 months,) pinching does occur and is part of normal development: from learning to grasp to exploring sensation and reaction. In older children, pinching in the face is an inappropriate behaviour and we want to make sure that the way we intervene will prevent it from reoccurring as much as possible.
What you can do (for children over 36 months)
First, assess the situation. What are some factors that are causing the behaviour?
- On occasion, children pinch each other because they know they will get a parent reaction right away – the same goes for hitting and biting.
- If they are close enough to pinch each other’s face, they are likely too close and need to step away from each other. If they cannot play with each other and finds solution together then they need to spend some time apart.
If it had just happened:
- Separate them and ask them to calm down in a separate space before you help them work out a solution. Try to resolve problems with your kids, not for them.
- As pinching is never ok, it needs to be replaced by a socially appropriate way to communicate: encourage them to use words and if that does not work, then they may request adult support for a solution.
To help prevent pinching or other fighting:
- Set ground rules for acceptable behaviours: depending on their age, have a discussion with them about inappropriate behaviours such as pinching. Solicit their input on the rules and consequences for breaking them.
- Be proactive and plan for one on one attention when possible.
- Make sure they have the opportunity during the day to have their own space and time to play without having to share.
- If the fight seems to be around the same toys, have them come up with a solution of how they could share before reintroducing the object of conflict.
- Use every opportunity to teach your child about emotions: books, create your own games (“Guess how I am feeling today?”), and speak about your own experience (a time you felt mad and what strategies you used to calm yourself).
- Role-playing these difficult situations with them when they are calm is a nice way to help them learn those much need social and conflict resolution skills. It is always very fun to inverse the role where parents play the children and the children the parents.
As any behaviour, pinching serve a purpose. It’s important for you to figure out what that purpose is and from there, help your children learn appropriate communication, conflict resolution and stress management skills.
Have a questions for Agnès? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Our Parenting Column is answered by Agnès Dupin of Family Therapy Toronto. She holds a Specialized B.A. in Psychology (York University) where she focused on developmental psychology, and a Master’s degree in Social Work (University of Toronto) where she focused on family and child therapy and parenting issues.