Sibling Rivalry or Revelry?

Did you know that the average young sibling set has 7-9 disputes an hour?  An hour?

Oh, when I heard that, I heaved an enormous sigh of relief.  My children are normal!  Hallelujah!

For months, I’ve been sweating over the little relationship my girls share with each other.  One minute it’s all cute cuddly fondness, and the next, WHAM! it’s a smack to someone’s head and one or both of them is screaming.  Usually totally out of the blue.  I have tried countless ways of disciplining this out of them and learned that, you know, it’s hard to go spank spank “Don’t hit your sister.”  Making the oldest one apologize (because although Aliyah’s vocabulary is out of this world, I’m not sure it would be effective to make her apologize) isn’t necessarily up there on my list either.  I remember being forced to apologize, and I’d do it smugly or with a smirk, completely without sincerity (sorry brother and sister dearest, I know you imagined I really meant it…).

What parent doesn’t hope their children will be close to each other?  Loving?  Compassionate?  Sharing laughs and toys and clothes and secrets?  After all, before they get into adult relationships, their closest relationships – the ones where they do all their relationship-learning – are in their family.  I am so incredibly thankful that my brother and sister and I are close, that we care for each other and support each other.  I am especially thankful that we all like the people we all married! (:  Looking back, I don’t think those relationships developed by accident; I believe all our moving around contributed to it (who else did we have to play with those summers in a new place?), as did family game nights, road trips, and late night chats over apples and cheese and tea.

So how does the mommy help that happen?

Teaching your children not to fight is not, I don’t think, the answer.  After all, they may just play in separate corners and have no relationship at all if they are simply taught not to fight with each other.  Conflict isn’t a bad thing – in fact, dealing well with conflict can increase intimacy and community.

It’s fun, watching the two girls develop into their own unique selves.  Sara is our little motorist – loves anything car-related, bike-related.  She also loves to dance.  Aliyah is a doll-fanatic, cuddling her dolls and even kissing them and saying “yuv you.”  (Did I mention she’s very verbal for her age?  She started saying “I love you” to daddy and I when she was 15 months old – I nearly fell off my chair the first time I heard it).  Ali doesn’t want to dance – she provides the serenade for Sara’s bee-bopping.  Their differences are cute, fun, endearing.  I hope these differences draw them together rather than apart.

Well, I must reiterate that I am not an expert.  And while my children are currently in a very happy state of sibling-hood after passing through a particularly violent state of sibling-hood, they are only 3 and 1, so there are many battles yet to be fought.  Here are a few things I am trying:

  • Feelings-talk.  I talk a lot with Sara about how she or Aliyah is feeling.  “Feeling mad is okay, but biting your sister is not,” is a common phrase in our house!  “Look in her eyes.  How do you think she is feeling right now?” is another one (wow, they’re going to get sick of that).
  • Lots and lots of play time together.  Daddy’s the horse they ride together.  Mommy plays shark with them hiding in their make-shift fort.  If they are having a happy-scream session in the van and it’s hurting my eardrums, I grin and bear it (or join in).  If Sara wants to climb into Aliyah’s crib with her sister, so be it.  We read books with the two of them, making them take turns with page-turning (Sara is much more gracious about it than Ali, but Ali still has to wait her turn).  When playing hide and seek, Ali (in my arms) is the one chasing Sara or Sara chases Ali in my arms.

Very, very noisy playing.

  • Truth-telling.  Sara (at 3) has learned to tell lies to stay out of trouble.  Now she knows that if she tells the truth, we’ll have a little talk-it-out session but there will be no time-outs or scoldings for the situation.
  • Helping each other.  Even though it makes everything take endlessly longer, I love letting the girls help each other.  Sara gets the diapers.  I’ll pass Ali something to give to Sara for me (this makes her very proud).  Sara gets to push the stroller (not every time – like when we’re in a rush – but often).  Sara helps administer Aliyah’s vitamins.  They love helping me.  I hope they love helping each other.
  • Teaching them to thank each other.
  • Teaching them to ask each other.  Don’t just assume she wants to play with you!  Ask first.  It’s gotten to where Sara asks Aliyah for everything, and it’s just SO cute.  I only wish Aliyah didn’t like the word “no” so much…
  • Taking individual time with each of them – special mommy time for crafts or cuddles or stories.  My imagination tells me this helps eliminate competition.  Maybe.
  • Telling them stories that feature the two of them together – accomplishing a task, rescuing the other, etc.  Sara loves these (Ali couldn’t care less, but hopefully she’ll get more interested!)

I don’t know.  It’s a start.

What ideas do you have to help your children enjoy each others’ company?  What kinds of things helped or hindered your relationship with your sibling(s)?


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Chrisaline
    Nov 07, 2011 @ 16:02:15

    I’m living in a household of boys. I’ve heard wrestling and competition is normal for boys, but somehow I just think it should be done a little quieter and more peaceful :$ I am not having a lot of success with that. However, there is one phrase I have used on my boys since they were barely talking; Talk, Listen, and Find a Solution. It is very funny hearing an 18 month old say “fine a soluson”. For my oldest, the phrase went “talk, LISTEN, and find a solution” — for my middle son, it went more like “TAAAALK!, listen, and Find a Solution” — and finally for number three, I would say “STOP… talk, listen, and find a solution”. We are still working on this conflict management thing. Somehow, I think that I am the one that needs to figure this out more than they 🙂


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