Because, of course, sometimes they do. We have our moments.
No amount of telling an almost-three-year-old to give her six-year-old sister space, is going to make her developmentally older than an almost-three-year-old. So, there is a lot of (to the older), "I know it's frustrating. Believe it or not, she's just trying to play with you because she ADORES you. She's not doing that purposefully to drive you freakin' crazy." Also (to the younger), "Honey, your big sis does NOT want to play like that. I could play with you OR you could stop doing that thing you know she can't stand and MAYBE she'll play with you then."
So, it's soothe and distract and change it up when it's not working. It's, "let's go outside for a bit," (or take a bath, or make some home fries, or mix paint colors, or . . . . The options are endless, but sometimes a stuck, frustrated dynamic just needs a small nudge to shift it.
I'm not a big believer in letting them work it out themselves, because there are always unfair power dynamics between older and younger siblings. How are they going to learn all of the many ways to work things out positively if they don't have a good role model?
If there is a clear aggressor in a situation, I not only help them see the other person's point of view (That really hurt your sister's feelings), I also remind them that I know that it feels bad to be the one acting aggressively. They are likely overwhelmed (or tired or hungry, etc.), and we should address those needs first.
Several days ago, the two oldest pushed each other. This is pretty rare in our house. Yelling, door slamming, mean words, these happen occasionally, but not usually physical attacks. It was a case of over-excitement and frustration. They were playing soccer and Camille kept yelling, "Gooooooool!" in her best Spanish-language soccer-announcer voice. Sylvia said straight out, "I don't like that. It feels like you're bragging." Camille did it again near Sylvia. Sylvia pushed. Camille pushed back.
Maybe this seems like no big deal, but there were tears involved and hurt feelings. I talked to each kid separately. I said something like I get it. But we all need to feel safe here. No big shaming and accusations, but also making it clear that it's not OK behavior. If I get too wordy, they just shut me out. I suspect that often happens to very wordy, parental lectures. They need help learning interpersonal skills. They already know that is sucks to be mean, they just don't always know what else to do when they are upset.
The other day, Ayla said to Camille, "I am so angry at you!" Camille had eaten most of the marshmallows that we had bought as a treat for sharing. There was one left, and Ayla was crying. Camille immediately apologized, but Ayla was very upset. We ended up cutting the marshmallow in half and putting an even smaller treat inside, a little candy piece from her Easter basket, and she was not only no longer sad and angry, but now she was excited.
Again, no big deal, maybe. However, if they learn to negotiate kindly and work towards peace in their sibling relationships in lots of little ways, these are skills that will serve them well in their lives.
I was actually really proud of Ayla for being able to say straight out, "I'm so angry." She wasn't hitting or screaming or bottling it up. That's a pretty good skill for a two-year-old.
On the other hand, my kids have said to me more than once, when I was being grumpy, "Um, you could have said that nicely the first time!" "It's easier to listen to you when you ask nicely." Oh, yeah. That goes both ways, and I love that they can remind me.
"As we get older and our kids grow up, we eventually come to realize that all the big things in our lives are really the direct result of how we've handled all the little things."