When we found out we were having a second boy, my husband and I were pretty thrilled. There just seems something special about two boys roaming the world together, having each other’s backs and being good brothers.
Those of you laughing already see where this is going. Porter and Oscar are only 3 and 1, and already we’ve endured some pretty cutthroat behaviour. Oscar can tap into a terrifying bloodcurdling scream whenever his older brother comes within vicinity of HIS food or HIS toys or HIS piece of lint that he is playing with on the carpet. And Porter is no innocent victim. He once flat out attacked his brother with a viciousness normally reserved for when the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles battle Shredder (which is obviously how he tried to justify it). The most devastating blow was when a sad Porter told us he no longer wanted to be Oscar’s best friend.
It’s important to note I blame any sibling rivalry tendencies on my husband. I have an older sister and overall we managed a pretty loving, cordial relationship. I think an age gap of four years, two very different personalities and the undeniable fact that she is the Best Big Sister Ever contributed to this (you might think yours is the best but you’re wrong). Sure, we had our moments – but like the time we were in a screaming match and I slammed a door with glass panels that shattered and we banded together to clean up and explain away the damage to mom – we always landed in a good spot.
My husband and his younger sister took a decade or more to land in a good spot. He admittedly had jealousy and a bit of a mean streak throughout their childhood, and he owes it all to her caring and laidback nature that they now have a great relationship.
So what is going on when sibling rivalry gets so intense?
Alyson Schafer – a renowned therapist, author and internationally acclaimed parenting expert based out of Aurora, ON – has some answers. Alyson says that almost all sibling fights are a creative way to get parent attention. Think of the squeaky wheel. But there are ways to cure a squeaky wheel (take away the motivation to squeak) versus simply treating it (giving the attention they crave). Obviously you could also replace a squeaky wheel, but since this is an analogy about children I’ve left that option out (though I have contemplated it).
Alyson offers up some great tried and true approaches to manage sibling rivalry in her Savvymom.ca post. Here’s a brief overview:
- Ignore it – teach your children not to be squeaky. Make a conscious effort to recognize when they play nicely and tell them you like to be around them when they do. When they act up with each other, explain it’s not fun for you and leave. The kids doing it for attention will learn pretty quick that it backfires.
- Put them in the same boat – force them to work together. For example, if they fight over a toy they both lose it until they can agree on how to share it.
- Don’t compare – seems obvious but a common pitfall is to motivate through comparison. “Oscar ate his whole dinner, so why are you struggling to eat one bite and seem to have an unspoken agenda to go to bed hungry and crying to ruin the night of everyone in this household again?” Or something to that effect. Read more about our adventures in picky eating here.
- Listen without fixing – you can be empathetic but don’t get pulled into their business. “Sounds like you were sad that your brother took away that lint you were playing with. Here’s a hug. I know it’s hard but this is something you need to speak to Porter about, and if you can’t resolve the problem unfortunately mom gets the lint.” It’s not your job to make them get along. Force it to be theirs.
- Family meetings – hold regular meetings to provide a time to calmly address issues that can’t get sorted out in the moment. This is not about assigning blame or choosing discipline. It is a problem-solving exercise with all family members there to provide ideas and support.
Another interesting point Alyson talks about sometimes is to actually model conflict resolution for older, mature kids. Yes, hash it out with your partner in front of them. Obviously reserve this approach for times when you are calm and committed to finding a creative, win-win solution in a disagreement.
Hoping these strategic approaches to sibling rivalry will work in our household. We might never get back to our dream of best-buddy-brothers-forever-and-ever but I think there are great ideas here to set the foundation for a healthy, dynamic and loving relationship.
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