In the last post, I introduced a situation between my daughters that required parental intervention: My daughters had been playing on the bed when one fell off. My older daughter immediately apologized, but my younger daughter would not hear of it and lashed out angrily.

I had asked you to let me know how you would’ve dealt with it. This was to be an exercise in looking at this common situation in a new light – instead of thinking that child needs a timeout, considering what else might be going on to contribute to the situation.

I’ll admit, sibling rivalry is difficult to deal with. But, I’ll give you a hint – the unmet need in this case had nothing to do with her sister, the bed, the fall, or their father. It was a basic need for attention.

Things are rarely as they appear, I find. I almost always have to look beyond the immediate conflict. In this case, we were in the midst of the holidays. The children were off their schedules, getting less sleep, eating more sweets, and then trying to re-adjust to normal daily life after several days of celebrating with family, playing with long-lost cousins, and watching too many movies.

So, then, how did we deal with it? Well, I commended my older daughter for her empathetic response and quick apology. And I moved my younger daughter to another room to work out some of her frustration away from her sister’s heels. She started off telling me about it being all her sister’s fault and Daddy didn’t believe her, and then broke down, crying about how she doesn’t get enough attention from me and she misses her cousins and playing at Grandma’s and she didn’t get a piece of pumpkin pie. And after a few minutes, she looked at me, said she was sorry that she yelled, and wanted to cuddle. We looked at the bump she got when she fell off the bed and I put a bandage on it. And then she climbed off my lap and went to color a picture on the kitchen table.

The point was to help her work through her frustration by talking it out, not to distract her from the problem – that she was yelling at her sister despite her apology. The clue that my daughter’s reaction was bigger than the situation at hand – that it was more about all the stress that goes with the holidays – was how big her reaction was. In her regular routine, after a good night’s sleep, her sister’s apology would’ve been all that was needed. So, another part of attachment-based parenting is learning your child’s unique way of being so you know when something is off.

All kids yell, kick, hit, lie, cry, act up and act out. It’s healthy and developmentally appropriate for all children to display poor behavior when they’re upset. But we as parents don’t need to think that the only tools we have available are punishment and manipulation, that the only emotional reaction we should be feeling or showing is anger or disappointment. Effective discipline is often, I find, as simple as giving undivided attention and a listening ear.