Mama, before you think this is going to be another lecture on how to handle kids perfectly, let me assure you: it’s not. Unfortunately, there are no magic mantras guaranteed to transform battling babies into best friends overnight! What I can offer you is a pinch of common sense, honed from years of experience hitting my head against a brick wall.
What’s the one thing you can almost guarantee when you have more than one child? Good old sibling rivalry! Two or more children – be it twins, triplets, siblings born 9 months apart or 2 years apart – will always bring some degree of sibling rivalry to your home. It’s just human nature and not a result of poor parenting, so never doubt yourself or your ability to raise well-adjusted children. You can prepare the older child in advance as much as you want and use strategies that parenting magazines swear by – but that all seems to fly out the window a year later when the little one is out of the cot and exploring the world for himself.
So what can you do? I have twins and even though there is just a mere minute’s difference between them, it doesn’t change the fact that they are two different people with different personalities and EQ make-ups. Sure, you can coerce your children into co-existing peacefully when they’re babies, but wait till they hit three years old and start talking. And expressing their likes and dislikes. And pushing and shoving. Just like adults, sometimes you get along with someone like a house on fire, and other times unfortunately, you just don’t get along at all. Children are the same. Just because they’re siblings, that’s no guarantee that they’ll like each other.
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Kids of different ages have differing needs and ways of processing the same information – what may seem normal for one age group may be perceived as ‘totally unfair’ by another age. For example, toddlers are just starting to learn how to assert their will and mark their territories. What better way to do this than to be naturally protective of their toys? So when a baby sibling picks up the toddler’s toy, the older child may feel threatened and react aggressively. As toddlers grow older and start school, they are introduced to the concept of fairness and equality, and therefore cannot usually understand why siblings may be treated differently or feel like one child gets preferential treatment.
But don’t worry, mamas – rivalry is not all bad! As kids cope with disputes, they also learn important life skills – like how to value another person’s perspective, how to compromise and negotiate, and how to control aggressive impulses. Try out these five effective ways to help ease the sibling rivalry. You’ve got nothing to lose – except a little strife!
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1. Whenever possible, don’t get involved (as tempting as it may be). Unless one of the littlies is bleeding or there’s a serious risk of physical harm, intervening will only further complicate the issue and create more problems for the future. Children will quickly start to expect your help and wait for you to come to the rescue, rather than learn to work out their problems on their own. There’s also the risk of you seemingly ‘protecting’ one child more over the other (usually the younger sibling), resulting in one child feeling more resentful, and the other feeling like they can ‘get away with it’, since they’re always being ‘saved’.
2. Unless it’s blatantly obvious and wrong, don’t put too much focus on establishing which child is to blame. It takes two to fight, thus anyone involved is partly accountable. Instead, channel your energy into coming up with a ‘win-win’ solution for everyone. Set ground rules for acceptable behavior and teach kids that they’re responsible for their own actions, regardless of the situation or how provoked they felt. Life is not fair or equal, and the earlier they learn that, the better off they will be (and hopefully thank you much later down the road).
3. If you have a toddler and a baby, try starting the day with precious ‘special time’ with the older child. Sometimes, a few intimate moments together with your toddler can ward off their angry feelings or jealousy towards the new baby and is a good investment in the rest of the day. If mornings don’t work, pick any time during the day and stick to it, so it becomes a regular part of your routine. Hopefully this will set the tone for ‘special me-time’, where children will slowly learn to respect each other’s and your time. Quality time is priceless!
4. Make sure kids have their own space and time to do their own thing. Arrange separate play dates and activities without a sibling tagging along whenever possible, or choose activities that don’t require sharing toys. When one child is on a play date, you can use this opportunity to spend one-on-one time with another.
5. Show and tell your kids that your love will never run out and you love them all equally, despite them believing you have a ‘favourite’ child in the family. Let them know that looking after them and making them feel safe, important, and loved is always your top priority. Reinforce your relationship by spending time together as a family and creating opportunities for kids to bond together. Watch a movie, go out for ice cream, throw a ball, or play a board game – whatever keeps children peacefully involved with each other without disintegrating into a battle for attention.
When all else fails mama, I’ll admit that I’m not beyond taking refuge in the bathroom until the storm passes. There’s something remarkably comforting about being on the other side of a locked door, momentarily away from the chaos. Siblings have a special relationship that they’ll one day learn to cherish, hopefully sooner rather than later!