Thursday, May 2, 2013

The "Get Along" Shirt: A Different Perspective

Several months ago I saw people start to post things about "get along" shirts on various Facebook groups, and of course, on Reddit.  In case you've never heard of this, basically the idea is that if your kids are fighting/arguing with each other, you make them either:

1. Sit and hold hands
2. Wear the same giant shirt

for a period of time until they get along.  Still don't know what I mean? Do a Google Image Search of "Get Along Shirt" and you get results like these:

From Reddit (

From the Huffington Post (

From KnowYourMeme (

When I first saw this, I thought it was absolutely hilarious. And of course, parents all over are saying it works great.  I basically laughed my ass off for a good 20 seconds.

Then, I thought about it a little more. And of course, thinking about it more proved to be a buzzkill because it made me realize I don't think it's very funny at all.  Maybe you think I'm being an oversensitive about this, but first, hear me out.

Here are the reason why I am not a huge fan of the "get along" shirt:

Reason #1: Respecting a Child's Personal Space

First and foremost, we need to be consistent in teaching our kids that it's not ok for someone to force themselves, or someone else, to touch them.  Or for them to be forced to touch someone else. We have to teach them to respect their own bodies, to respect other people's bodies, and to have a respect for personal space. The idea behind this shirt is to force the kids to touch, and to be squished together next to someone who they don't want to be squished up next to.  I think this teaches kids that it's ok sometimes for a person in an authority figure to force someone to touch you / you to touch someone as a "punishment." NOT a lesson I want my child to be taught.

Reason #2: Arguing Kids Probably Need Time APART, Not Tied Together

When I was a kid, my middle sister and I fought constantly.  There were days where we fought all day, every day.  We tattled, we screamed, we threw toys, and rarely (but sometimes) we smacked each other.  I can only imagine we must have driven my parents near insanity.  They probably wanted to bring us to an orphanage some days.  I figure we got like this because we were together ALL.THE.TIME.

Instead of forcing us together, however, they simply gave us time apart.

If you are a kid and you are living with a sibling, you are sometimes with them 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  You didn't CHOOSE your sibling... but you live with them, and you have no choice.  Now think about this for a minute; you may love your friends and your partner, but do you think you'd get along with them perfectly if you had to spend 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with them? Probably not... and you are an adult, so you chose your partner and friends!  So while you as an adult may be able to keep calm if you are hanging around with someone 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, even if they are starting to annoy the crap out of you, take away the impulse control and maturity you have as an adult, and chances are you'd fight like kid siblings.

If my son and his little friend have arguments or start to grate at each other, I simply let them play in different rooms.  This solves the problem almost 100% of the time.   If your kids are grating at each other, they probably need some time apart. 

 Reason #3: It's Good to Teach Your Kids that People Don't ALWAYS Need to Get Along

While your kids arguing probably makes you insane, the fact of the matter is, people don't always get along all the time.  The best thing you can do is take this opportunity to teach your kids this.  That may be easier said than done with different ages, but do the best you can.

"I know you are angry with ______ right now, but please keep your hands to yourself."

"I know _________ thinks the sky is green and you think the sky is blue, but it's ok to think different things."

"It's ok if you don't like each other right now, but it's never ok to hit another person."

I know, these sound like flaky and idealistic things to say, but the reality is, people DON'T ALWAYS have to get along; they do, however, have to not hit each other or scream at each other in a disrespectful way. 

Reason # 4: It's Belittling, and Sort of Offensive to the Kids

I'll tell you a story.

About a year ago, I was at a local playgroup with my son and a little boy I watch, Elliot.  I was playing blocks with Elliot I when another kid came up, grabbed his hand, and clamped down on it with his teeth... and didn't let go!  I immediately reached out to remove his hand from the other boy's mouth, but the kid would NOT let go.  Finally the kid's mom came, grabbed her kid, and left a crying (and bleeding!) mess of Elliot. I was mortified.

I was comforting Elliot when the boy's mom came up and said "Now kiss his hand where you bit him!"  The look on Elliot's face was the look of sheer terror. This kid had just bitten his hand, the last thing he wanted on earth was for that kid's mouth going near his hand again, even to "kiss it better."

OH HELL NO! I basically said, straight out, "he's not kissing his hand" and walked away with Elliot.

So back to the "Get Along" shirt, who knows what went down with your kids.  Maybe one hit the other, maybe they were both hitting each other.  Forcing them to touch the person who just smacked them, even if they smacked them back, isn't very respectful to either of them. 

Reason #5: Your Kids are Probably Not Less Mad At Each Other, They're Probably Just More Mad at You

If your kids calm down because of the Get Along shirt, it's probably because they'd have calmed down either way. Kids don't stay hyped up forever.  It's probably also because they are both refocusing their anger/annoyance/frustration at you, for punishing them by making them sit together.  This doesn't really address the reasons they were fighting in the first place, and just sort of redirects their initial feelings.   Look at the kids in the pictures; they are still very upset, and probably feel humiliated.

So, do I think you are an asshole if you've used this shirt?

The answer is no.  I don't think you are an asshole if you've used this technique.  I just would not personally use this technique myself because I feel that the cons outweigh the pros.  I recognize the technique may work, and that people who use it may feel like they've tried every other possible technique and only  this technique has proven effective for them.  I just wanted to share my perspective in case anyone hadn't considered it.

So what do I do instead!? 

The best strategy I've used in getting two kids to get along when they've been grating on each other has been to take two steps:

#1: Separate them for a while. Let them play in separate rooms.  Let them cool off and have time apart.

#2: Give them a toy or game that requires them to play together to make it work:

- Scatch
- Tennis
- Baseball and bat
- Board game

This will teach them that sometimes it can be fun to play together, and that there are some perks to having a sibling.

Better yet...

Why not take the punishment aspect of the "get along" shirt away entirely, and instead make it appeal to your kids as something awesome they are allowed to use if they get along?

"I have this huge shirt, if you guys get along, you can both wear it at the same time! Wouldn't that be hilarious?"

Now that's what I call a REAL "Get Along" shirt.  A shirt for kids that are, you know, actually getting along :) 
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