16 Feb Sibling rivalry….argh!
This weekend my two older children taught the baby (not that he is really a baby anymore…. sob!) to fake cry. This is a technique the two of them have developed together over a period of time, to wind me up. Unfortunately for my baby, he is the third and so my husband and I are now impervious to the fake cry. Nonetheless, I do love the conspiratorial way the two big ones included him in their little cheekiness. Obviously I had to pretend to be cross.
My youngest has now got to the age where he and his two siblings can actually play together. The other day I found the three of them sitting together doing a puzzle. Clearly the older two were doing it, but the baby was providing some very constructive commentary.
It is obviously not all peace and harmony; the boys generally want whatever the other has, and my daughter gets very upset if her brother interrupts her singing (which he does frequently just to wind her up). But by and large they rub along pretty well together – they consider each other ”best friends” about 90 per cent of the time. The older two will sit together drawing and colouring, the three of them love piling on top of each other, they do gymnastics together (or more accurately bend over and say “look, mummy, look, I am doing a handstand!”), and the latest game is teaching the baby to say funny words like Bubble guppies and poo (so childish…).
An interesting new dynamic has developed as the baby has got older, however: jealousy. My older two children never seemed to show signs of jealousy. When my second was born, myself and my daughter looked after him together. I think she saw him as much as her baby and responsibility as mine. It was very sweet. As he got older and started wanting to get involved with what she was doing, move around and play with her toys, I showed her the neat little trick of distraction – if you want what your brother has, or if he is pestering you for what you have, just find him something else that he wants more to give him. It worked a treat. And as for competing for my attention, they seemed happy to share me.
My third however has from an early age been quite clear about the fact that I am most definitely his mummy. He openly pushes his older siblings away if they try to cuddle me. Even if one of them is crying, he will come over and stroke and kiss them, but they have a three minute window max. to be comforted before his sympathy runs out and he moves in to remind them that I am in fact his mummy.
Luckily, this still comes across as cute because he is so little. He is stil their little baby and they love cuddling and looking after him. But I suspect that there will come a time when the older two get a bit fed up with it.
So, in a bid to avoid all out warfare in my home, I have recently been thinking about ways to try to minimise squabbling between the children and the development of sibling rivalry (obviously you cannot prevent it altogether).
Leave them to it
While I hate to admit it, I am probably a bit of a helicopter parent (ok, I am a lot of a helicopter parent). I have a terrible habit of intervening at the first sign of trouble between my brood. My husband always tells me I interfere too much when they start to argue. And he is right. So a while ago I introduced a no refereeing policy. I would not intervene. Now, this is easier said than done, as those of you who are like me will know, intervening is an automatic reflex rather than a considered choice. I had to be on my guard and ready to override my reflex to interfere. Now, if they cannot agree on something, sharing a toy or what Cbeebies to watch, I make them discuss it and work it out. I tell them that if they cannot find a way to agree I will take it away/turn it off.
I have been using this technique and so far it seems to be working pretty well. The one problem I have encountered so far is that my daughter will sometimes just give in, and then sulk about giving in. Personally, I do not think that this is a good lesson to teach. To stop this from happening, they now know that if one of them gives in when they do not really want to, it doesn’t count. They have to find a compromise that they are both happy with.
It seems to be paying off too. On the bus to the park on Sunday they agreed without any conflict or intervention from me on how they would divvy up pushing the stop button. Amazing! No 10 minute argument about whose turn it was to push the button, whether it had indeed pinged or not, and sulking for the next 20 minutes because it was in fact their turn. I was able instead to focus on the baby, who has obviously decided that now he is 18 months he should be able to stand on the bus holding on to the pole like an adult – the flailing around and my dramatic dives to catch him each time are just extra amusement as far as he is concerned.
Labels become a self-fulfilling prophecy
Another aspect of the sibling relationship that I am also painfully aware of is labelling the children. My daughter is definitely more sensible than my older son. He is a complete joker. And hilarious with it. But I am quite firm that my older boy will not be labelled as loud and funny, without also acknowledging his helpfulness, his sensitivity, and his ability to sit and concentrate on a task, be it drawing, practicing writing his name or playing with his trains. Yes he runs around like a loon, but you will also find him quietly sat on the sofa looking at a book. He is a little gentleman.
Equally, while my daughter is thoughtful and hardworking, you will also find her tearing around climbing trees and starting pile ons with her brothers. Her latest game is to say to her brother “come on, let’s fight!” (thankfully so far this has not resulted in a trip to A&E, but give it time). And boy is she fast – at her rugby class beating her in a race is seen as a huge achievement by the other children. She also has a killer sense of humour. It is drier than her brother’s but she will suddenly floor us with a one-liner.
So, in a bid to avoid labelling and pigeon-holing them, I try to avoid always using the same adjective to describe them. Next I just have to work on stopping calling the baby “the baby”….. I sense this may be a harder habit to break (definitely a subject for another post).
Now, I know it sounds a bit naff (my husband constantly takes the piss out of me for it and my mother thinks I sound like an American cheerleader), but I am also a huge fan of encouraging team work. I think it gives them a chance to shine in their respective areas and also teaches the older ones patience with others not as adept as them at certain things. They learn from each other too.
The teamwork also reinforces in my mind that sibling conspiracy behaviour. I remember as a small child my sisters and I all ganging up on my mum, eating with our spoons upside down used to drive her particularly bonkers (god only knows why). I know it sounds awful of us, especially as she was a single parent struggling with three small children (she is awesome by the way). But at the same time that sibling conspiracy is so important. I love seeing my children do the same. And frankly, it only seems fair after what I put my mother through with my sisters.
Obviously they are still only little, but I do think that these experiences working together, learning to negotiate and compromise can only be a good thing for them later in life. And if nothing else, they may at least help me cling on to my sanity for a little longer.