Monday, May 2, 2011

Competition, Jealousy And Sibling Rivalry

These aren't my kids, but they look awfully familiar!
My 4-year old twins compete about almost everything. It does not make a difference whether you try to level the playing field so that "everyone is a winner"; they will still find something to compete about.

"I am going to the bathroom first"
"I got to the top of the stairs first"
"I have more candy than you"
"I have a higher fever than you"

Yes, it's that ridiculous. And it's not just winning or having more than the other, competition for mommy's affection and attention is paramount in their world. Getting to sit next to me, having me sit on their bed (as opposed to their sibling's) at bed time, getting buckled into the car seat by me instead of having their nanny do it, all of this and more is argued over day in and day out. All of this leads to a lot of whining, yelling, poking, name calling and crying. And that was just today.

Siblings will fight, what can you do?
I'm an only child, so the concept of "typical sibling behavior" is a bit foreign to me. And I find the chaos and noise that accompanies it quite stressful. You can't expect your children to be best friends all the time, or even expect them not to fight, but I do think we can teach them to be civil, kind and respectful of each other. These are some of the things I use in our house to handle the issue of sibling battles:
One of the best parenting books out there.
  • Make ground rules. Hitting/kicking/hurting each other's bodies is not allowed in our house. This seems like a no-brainer, but children need to be reminded constantly that this is not the way to express yourself. Be consistent about what you will do if a child forgets to follow the rule and does hit etc. We do not do time outs but we do not allow anyone to hurt someone else's body in our family. If someone needs to be removed it is always done with that explanation followed by the offer to stay close to help with the big feelings. Knowing how you will handle a situation ahead of time makes it a bit easier to follow through rather than having to come up with a solution in the heat of the moment.
  • Teach Emotional Literacy. Siblings often end up name calling and hitting each other because they don't know how else to express what they're feeling. Use reflective (or active) listening to give them the vocabulary they need: "It must be so frustrating when your sister isn't letting you play with her", "You must feel really disappointed that Jason didn't share his toys with you", "You seem really furious that your brother threw sand at you" etc. Once your children can accurately talk about their feelings this instantly begins to help diffuse the situations.     
  • Create Problem Solvers. Teach your children to solve their own problems. It's hard not to always step in and be the referee, but you are doing your children a disservice in the long run. One of my favorite parenting books, Becoming The Parent You Want To Be has a great breakdown of how conflict resolution should be taught. I've been using this method since my son and daughter were, perhaps, 2 years old and it works remarkably well. They're now old enough that they can often do it on their own with just a little prompting from me. It involves active listening, reframing children's name-calling, validating feelings, encouraging each child to state their point of view etc. The very basics of it go something like this: when children are fighting I might say "It looks like there is one (toy, seat, cookie etc.) and two children who want it (or two children who have a different idea of how to play this game etc.). What do you think we should do?" If necessary, I remove the object causing the conflict until a resolution is reached. I then prompt each child with "Jamie, can you come up with a idea that will make both Jamie and Eli happy?" When Jamie gives her answer I ask Eli if that idea is OK with him. He can say "I like that idea" or "I don't like that idea". If he doesn't like it, then he's encouraged to offer an idea. And we go back and forth. If they get stuck, I may offer an idea of my own. It took a lot of practice, but this method has never failed to work for me and often, by the time they go back and forth a few times, one has simply lost interest in whatever they were fighting about. My goal is to get to a point where they can use this method without my involvement.
So, when they're not fighting how can we help our children like each other better?
My kids can actually play together really well, but they also fight. A lot. I know that because they're twins they spend an inordinate amount of time together. This would be enough to make anyone crazy. Although people tend to think that multiples are automatically each other's best friends and love to be joined at the hip, it is my experience that as a parent of twins, I have to work harder to cement that friendship. Having children of different ages presents its own challenges and I think these tips can help either scenario.
Sometimes they actually really enjoy
each other's company
  • Encourage Their Bond. I've written about this more extensively in a post called Best Friends, Or Just Brother And Sister? Finding ways to increase your children's bond with each other is vital to building an underlying love for each other. You cannot force friendship, but you can show your children how special is it to have a brother or sister and how important that relationship is. Children who are diametrical opposites may never be close, but they can learn to appreciate the other and to even enjoy the company of their siblings. 
  • One On One Time. Fill up your child's cup with as much time possible spent doing "special" things without their sibling. This is particularly important if you have twins, but it helps with any sibling pairing. It doesn't have to be anything spectacular, any time they get to do something where they don't have to share with their siblings is a bonus. They not only are getting your undivided attention, but they are also able to share more of themselves because they are not caught up in battling for top dog status. Doing something with each child that is special to them will help your children know that they are valued for who they are as individuals. Siblings of different ages will often have after school activities that are different, just because of their ages; give your twins the same gift. So, even if both love art, try to send them to a class on different days. There is something to be said for that old adage "absence makes the heart grow fonder". Giving your kids some time to miss each other is a good thing.
  • Dont Compare, Don't Label. It is human nature to do these two things. We naturally look at two similar things, compare and contrast them and then label them: "this child is listening to his mother while the other one is throwing a tantrum; he must be the difficult one". There is nothing worse than being compared unfavorably to someone one else. Strangely enough, it is equally bad to be labeled with what we would consider a positive attribute. It's just as hard to live up to being "the smart one" as it is to live down being "the moody one". Resist comparing your siblings. Avoid labeling them. There is nothing that will create bad blood faster than these two acts. If you need to comment on what one child is doing, do it without bringing up the other child. There is no need to say, "Wow! You finished your homework so quickly. Your brother hasn't even gotten half of it done!"
These are just a few ideas that can help create some sibling harmony at home. Do your kids fight? What do you do to keep the peace? I know I can always use new ideas. Did you fight with your siblings? Do you do the same things your parents did to try and put an end to it? I'd love to hear your stories.

Thanks for reading!
-Gina
The Twin Coach

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8 Great Comments Made By Clicking Here!:

Christina Simon said...

Gina, this is such a great reminder that all kids fight, not just mine. Yesterday was the worst! Sometimes it takes me time to figure out what's really going on: Jealousy or sibling rivalry. Then, everything makes sense.

Dana said...

Oh my God! Do my kids fight?
Less than 30 minutes ago, my oldest boy clocked my youngest boy across the face with a stilt and likely broke his nose. Sadly, this is not uncommon.
As you know, I have four children, all very close in age (6,4,4,2) so they're constantly vying for top-dog status. Interestingly, the twins have the most harmonious relationship. The central tensions exist between the two girls (6,4) and the two boys (4,2).
I do nearly everything you've mentioned but, as you're well aware, that takes A LOT of work (and unfortunately it's not guaranteed to work, just depends on the day or circumstances). But there are also many days when I try to let them work out their own issues and there are times when I allow mild shoving, especially between the boys, because I feel like they express themselves more physically. Clearly, though, rapping each other with sticks and stilts is beyond the pale.
Sigh.
Parenting is hard stuff.

The Twin Coach said...

Christina, there must have been something in the air because Sunday my kids were insane. And I agree, figuring out the root issue helps everything settle down.

Dana, it's so good to know that it's not just me. When I read your blog, your kids sound so lovely - not that I want them to be breaking each other's noses, but I'm glad to know I'm not alone. And YES....it is a lot of work. A LOT. I like your point, as well, about how boys handle things more physically sometimes....

Thank you both!
-Gina

The Levy 6 said...

I love your examples of conflict resolution. I'll be trying that today. I need to write down some key words to help me remember the process. I'm learning to really 'label' things for my son...and just writing the fact that I have to have a 'cheat sheet' to help me remember how to manage the conflict resolution just helped me realize why my son (4) needs verbal labels of my expectations....we're very similar. 'Son, a way to show kindness in this situation would be xyz...' It seems to be helping him. Your conflict resolution tool/method is very similar and I'm looking forward to seeing it in action.

The Twin Coach said...

Yes, I do find that labeling emotions is the best way to help kids begin to have the ability to do it themselves. At this young age they just don't know what they're feeling - all they know is they feel yucky. I love your idea to frame it around what you expect of it. Let me know how it works out!
-Gina

Melina said...

Hi Gina,

Great post! Can I borrow it in a local newsletter for our area mothers-of-multiples club? I will include the link, of course.

Thanks!

Melina

Gina Osher said...

Hi Melina. Yes, I would be honored to have it featured in your newsletter. Thank you for asking first! ~ Gina

Melina said...

Great, thank you!

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