Remember the other day when I said Monday was an unusually easy morning, because the boys were getting along so well? And then I wrote about helping kids transition from being an only to being a big sibling, like I knew what the heck I was talking about?
Well, then they woke from their naps and all hell broke loose. Zippy was tearful because he didn’t get enough time to play alone with me before Bee woke from his nap. Bee crying because Zippy wouldn’t didn’t want to share his dinosaurs and then because Bee wanted the dinosaurs to wear helmets and Zippy didn’t. And then Zippy was doing some kind of wild-ninja-boy dance in Bee’s face while Bee shouted “I need space!” (Seriously, my 2-year-old was shouting that.)
Yep, this is the flip side of siblings. But, you know, I’m okay with it. As Bee has become more mobile and more verbal, the boys are able to interact a lot more, even to play together despite the 3-year age difference. This means more direct conflict between them, but we’re figuring it out.
If I made a list of all the things the boys butt heads about, it would be a long one. The most common problems come up around sharing, mommy-possessiveness, and tormenting/teasing. We have a few general rules and strategies that seem to help with all of these issues.
A lot of it goes back to our basic family rules, which I try to use as a guideline for all situations, and figuring out how to apply our usual strategies to new situations. It’s not so much about reinventing the wheel, but about taking the foundation we’ve tried to put in place over the past 5 years and figuring out how to apply it to the realm of sibling conflict. With pretty much any problem that pops up between the boys, I can refer to one of our rules – like be kind, be safe, be respectful. I'll use one of our usual strategies - a reminder, distraction, offering a choice. And, if need be, I can remind the kids of the potential consequence if they keep breaking the rule (losing tv time or a time-out, for example)...and then impose the consequence. It's easy to get "sucked in" to sibling conflict and start waffling back and forth about who's right, what to do, etc. I try (the operative word being try) not to take sides, but to set a limit then stick by it just like I would for anything else.
And the family rules apply to all of us. Kids learn so much more from watching than being told something, so hubby and I try our best to model the behavior we expect. I think the boys listen to the rules all the more because they know that the rules truly match our values and there isn't double standard. We aren't asking the boys to treat each other any differently than how we treat each other.
|I love seeing the boys play together like this!|
We also have a couple of other policies: It’s okay to play alone, but it’s not okay to exclude someone if we are playing together. This rule comes up a lot when Zippy wants me to play with him, but he doesn’t want his little brother involved. The mantra is that anyone who wants to play, can. I understand that both boys want Momma to themselves sometimes, so I try to make sure they get that – but when we are all together, no one gets left out. If Zippy doesn’t want to share or doesn't want little bro messing with his stuff, I remind him he can take his toys in his room and shut the door. If he doesn't want to do that, then no more complaining. His room is his private space to play where no one can bother him. As he gets older, he’s also started keeping some of his “big boy” toys like Legos in his room. I think that giving him the option of going to his room respects his desire not to have his play disturbed while also being realistic about our ability to keep Bee from grabbing one of three kazillion dinosaurs spread across the playroom floor.
I also don’t let them pull the “It’s mine” argument except with a few very special toys or maybe some particular item that they are super-attached to on a given day (like at this moment, Bee won’t part from his plastic zebra). The toys belong to everybody. At Christmas, we actually bought a couple of gifts for the two of them together – to eliminate the “That’s my toy!” argument and to encourage sharing.
I want the boys to know it is never okay to be aggressive with each other. I recognize that little swats and pushes are inevitable at this age, given that their skills to negotiate and cooperate are still limited, but I hope that by having a zero tolerance policy they will be motivated to learn other ways to handle conflicts and that I won’t have two teenagers beating each other up down the road. So, if Zippy hits, he gets a time-out. Bee isn’t quite at the point of time-outs yet, but he definitely gets redirected and if necessary I remove him from the situation.
I do a lot of coaching to teach them how to interact. Sometimes problems arise because the boys simply don’t have the skills to handle the situation in a better way or their emotions override their problem-solving. (As a mom, I know that my coping skills aren’t 100% when I’m feeling frustrated or angry – I may react on emotion, instead of having the “right” response – I know it’s the same for the kids.) For instance, we have a rule of “Ask, don’t grab.” So if Zippy grabs a toy from his brother, I give it back to Bee and then have him ask for it nicely. Bee can often be “bought off” with another toy, so I encourage Zippy to offer a trade for whatever it is he wants that Bee has. (No sure how much longer that will work!) Basically, I’m trying to teach them in the moment how they can problem-solve in an acceptable way. If they are really fighting over a toy and my efforts to mediate aren’t successful, I take it.
There's always that balance between helping Zippy understand that Bee isn't where he is at developmentally and insisting Zippy not take advantage of that, while also not letting Bee get away with everything because he's smaller. That’s where the “fairness” thing gets a little sticky. Sometimes I have to remind Zippy of where Bee is at developmentally and reassure him that we had the same expectations of him when he was 2. I try to be cognizant of how frustrating it can be for Zippy if Bee is pestering him –Bee has this thing for jumping on Zippy when he’s trying to watch his favorite tv show. I try not to expect Zippy to always be the one to “put up with” his brother’s annoying behavior.
Another challenge is finding the balance between intervening to keep a situation from escalating and letting the boys work things out themselves. Sometimes I do just let a situation go or ignore little transgressions, because I don’t want to micromanage their relationship. Oftentimes I’ll hear a little trouble brewing, only to peek around the corner and see them playing happily again. If they are having fun together – even if it involves being a little naughty, like when they were in cahoots to “sneak” treats from the pantry yesterday – I try to keep my distance, because these are the moments they can really learn to enjoy one another’s company and how great it is to have a sibling. Plus, it is just plain sweet to watch!