Today’s Table Talk is by our friend Jody Capehart. This is a wonderful continuation to her post last week (click here to read: Sibling Rivalry – Part 1). In today’s post, Jody gives us tips on how to handle the inevitable issues for families of multiple kids.
Thanks, Jody! … and thanks for walking the road with me.
SO WHAT CAN YOU DO AS A PARENT?
Once you account for the basics of their relationship, you want to try whatever you can to make your children view each other as invaluable playmates.
Think about it. Why do children tend to treat friends better than siblings? Because if they don’t treat their friends right, they might lose them.
But siblings? They’re stuck with them for life. So there is less incentive to change their behavior with siblings, as there is no opt-out clause available if they don’t like the relationship.
What you must do is find ways to help them enjoy one another, to take the bonds that exist between siblings naturally and use those to help the siblings to feel like they are also friends.
Of course, much easier said than done. Theory is always nice but sometimes difficult to put into practice – especially if the established tone has already become established and perhaps hardened between the siblings.
Whatever the case, your actions remain the same: create opportunities in which the two are set up for successful interaction, not failure.
Meaning, don’t lock them in the same room with one “best toy,” pray for their hearts to be changed, and hope they miraculously learn to share.
At the same time, don’t hover around like a helicopter parent, always swooping in to save the day. They must learn on their own. They just need you to stack things a little in their favor.
One activity that I suggest would be one in which they create a persona/ character of their own imagination. Brainstorm ideas together and then get out of the way. Children’s imaginations rarely need a director yelling “action” and “cut.” Creative play is always healthy for children.
Will there still be conflict, even in the best idea? Of course. Will someone try and take over the game? Yes, in many cases.
Some people suggest that you take away the toy that they are fighting over and even give it away. Again, may I come back to the iPad analogy. If I gave away your iPad to ‘teach you to share’, would it? Probably not. In reality, it may cause you to resent the intrusion of the sibling even more.
Siblings are people first and people take time. As stated earlier, there are multiple issues that must be factored in such as personality differences, gender, and age, just to name a few.
PROACTIVE, POSITIVE PARENTING
Instead of forcing them to share their favorite toy, allow them to have a favorite toy. When their hearts are ready to share, they will. Forcing them to share it will cause resentment.
Acknowledge age differences and that with it comes privileges. “Your brother is older and gets to stay up 15 minutes older.” “Your sister is younger and therefore, we don’t expect her to do as many chores as you.” Age differences work both ways. Kids have an antenna for “fair” and want to make sure it is balanced both ways.
Acknowledge personality differences and build upon the strengths rather than allowing the weaknesses to be an excuse for not doing something. “Your brother likes things to be orderly. Therefore, you may not mess with his things. Your sister likes to be creative. Therefore, she has a creative corner and we want you to respect her space.” Be careful not to elevate one over the other, simply acknowledge them and allow each child to have their space to be protected from the sibling who is not like them.
Build upon the positive activities that they share together. They may love to build forts together with sheets over furniture on a Friday night. Find as many things as you can that they genuinely share in common that bring them mutual fun, but don’t force them to “love’ each other’s favorite activities. It is fine to stretch them from time to time, but don’t make it a daily practice.
The goal is to respect each child for how God made them which will help to replace fighting with new, stronger, healthier sibling relationships.
MY KIDS AND MY GRANDKIDS
My children are grown and in their late 20’s and 30’s. Christopher and Angela are four years apart. Christopher was a very tender boy, and often he was very sweet to Angela…until she got to be the age when she knew exactly how to push his buttons. He liked things neat and orderly whereas we called her our little tornado of activity.
We explained to Christopher that Angela simply looked up to him and wanted to play with him. But the age, gender differences, and personality preferences made their relationship difficult for some time.
It wasn’t until Christopher discovered that Angela had a good sense of humor that he finally saw her as an irreplaceable playmate. Now he had someone to enjoy wherever they were – long car trip, boring extended family get-togethers without cousins, as well as the practicalities of how to share a bathroom.
Once they worked out their differences and went from siblings who competed and fought, they became inseparable friends and are to this day.
BOYS TWO YEARS APART
In contrast, Angela’s two boys, Keagan and Hudson, are only two years apart. Already, this is a different dynamic to work with than Angela and Christopher had as young children. While they share the same gender and are close in age, their personality differences make the relationship difficult at times.
For starters, Keagan is still only four and does not have the maturity to understand what Hudson is going through developmentally. Keagan is the older, quieter, ‘rule-follower’. While Hudson, age two, looks to Keagan as his absolute hero and model, he is loud, boisterous, and plays differently than Keagan. Hudson messes with Keagan’s neat and orderly ‘stuff’.
At times, they play together wonderfully and laugh and play until they don’t have any energy left.
Other days they fight, compete over the ‘stuff’, how to play, ‘who’s on first’, and everything becomes a rivalry.
SO, WHAT’S A PARENT TO DO?
When space is limited and they ‘must’ be together, help them to find the things they both share in common. Put boundaries on what is acceptable when they do fight. Most issues resolve themselves if we don’t interfere. However, it is not OK for them to physically or verbally abuse one another. That calls for parental intervention and immediate consequences.
The more children can see that the sibling is someone they can enjoy being with, the more they will begin to see the sibling as a valuable, irreplaceable playmate.
Will it happen overnight? No. But the hope is that as they mature, they will grow into their relationship better than if no proactive steps are taken.
Also, I should add that alone time is very important. Start with baby steps. Don’t let a good ten minute stretch turn ugly because you wanted it to last for your entire TV show! Give them breaks from one another.
After all, you can’t change who they are and you can’t force them to like one another.
But the bonds are there to create a meaningful relationship that gives them joy and you less stress!
Most Bible translations quote Proverbs 17:17 as, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” However, I would also like to add the New Living Translation one here: “A friend is always loyal, and a brother is born to help in time of need.”