Sibling Rivalry

by Heligirl on February 13, 2010

in Parenting Tidbits,Positive Discipline

It was subtle in its infant beginnings, but sibling rivalry has definitely entered our home. This last several weeks Mr. Man is beginning to really develop some personality. He’s showing preferences and has learned how to get our attention. This has not gone unnoticed by Her Highness.

Mr. Man will make a noise and smile at me from across the room, giving me his best mama’s boy look. I am powerless against this look and I come over for some snuggles. This afternoon is a good example. We were in the living room watching the Olympics. The kids were on the floor, Mr. Man playing with a few toys and Sweetness pointing out the colors of uniforms of the Olympic skaters on the TV. Then Mr. Man put out a squeal. His sister and I looked. He locked eyes with me and gave me his best “come hither, you cannot resist me so don’t even try” smile. I crawled over to him and gave him a kiss on the cheek. In a flash his sister was there, wiggling her way between us with “mommy!” I looked over at her and she smiled big and moved in for a smooch. Now this isn’t so bad. Kind of cute really. If this is all the rivalry will be, I’m fine.

Sadly, I’m not going to be so lucky. Sweetness now notices when Handsome is enjoying himself with a toy and that just won’t do. She walks up and announces “my turn” or “no baby brother” then takes it away. For the last several weeks he just looked at her and went for another toy. Now he realizes he’s not so into this big bully taking away his toys and he lets loose with a cry.

I’ve been studying hard how to encourage the kids to work together, while at the same time taking into consideration their age and ability to understand the concept. It is too early to really expect them to negotiate or for Sweetness to understand she can’t just take things away. However, if I start employing some of the philosophies now, once they are old enough to really understand them, they’ll begin to follow them. This is better than me just stepping in for the first three years, then suddenly changing the rules on them and making them negotiate, which can actually inhibit their immediate understanding and cooperation because they were already used to the old way. For instance, some parents at this age will just take the toy away from the older one and give it back to the younger one. That’s by far the easiest for a tired mommy. But Mr. Man would learn early that mommy will just stick up for him and Sweetness will start developing spite over the unfairness and start storing away fodder for her future psychotherapy.

According to the positive discipline and compassionate parenting research I’m doing, it’s really important to set a precedent of encouraging them to work out their issues early, even if they really can’t do it and I’m actually providing the example for now. So instead of immediately returning the toy, I must stop what I’m doing and get down on their level (the floor) and tell Sweetness she must ask Mr. Man if he’s done. Of course I don’t expect a “why sure, big sister, I’m done. It’s all yours” from my little 9-month-old dude. He in fact is looking longingly at the toy in his sister’s hands. I point this out to Sweetness and tell her, “It looks like he’s not finished yet. Why don’t we look for something else to play with until he is.” Then I “help” her give the toy back. Yes, tantrums are typically involved and that’s why the old ‘distraction’ technique (get her interested in something else) is valuable. No one said this method of parenting was easy, but it sure pays off when they grow up gaining valuable self discipline and esteem.

This is how the kids are encouraged to interact at preschool and I do it at home so she’s seeing consistency. I’ll let you know if it ends up working in the end. She’s still only two and a half so her impulses still have complete and total control, even though she does now stop and listen to me when I say it. And she has been known on rare occasions to ask her brother, as well as other friends, “can I play with that?”

Our co-op preschool has discussion groups where half of us are in discussion one week while the other half man stations around the classroom to monitor play, then we switch the next week. It’s been a great place to discuss issues and I’m grateful that several of the other moms have older kids. They’ve been wonderful in offering advice. The best stuff I’ve gotten so far is “offer choices” when it comes to keeping tantrums at bay and “read Siblings Without Rivalry: How to Help Your Children Live Together So You Can Live Too“. I just bought this book, less than $11, and will most certainly be reporting on how that’s working out for me. Stay tuned.

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