Toddlers at War: Sibling Rivalry

“My eldest daughter stalks the younger one, trips her up, hits her, bites her, takes her toys, scratches and pushes her. Yesterday she put a pillow on her sister’s face and every time I jump to intervene, she tries to be nasty on a daily basis. Only my intervention or having them separately will prevent actual injuries,” my friend complained to me recently. Her daughters are two and one years old.

I, myself, have two boys under three, and scratching, biting, hitting and spitting are part of our daily routine at the moment. At times it gets so bad that I can’t even turn away my head; leaving the room was simply life-threatening for the baby.

Whose Fault Is It?

I wondered if we as parents could do something to stop the rivalry or even if it is our fault that our kids don’t feel loved enough. May be it is our behavior that sets the jealousy off and promotes rivalry among our children?

“No, absolutely not! Parents take too much on,” assured me Dr. Jane Nelsen, the founder of the Positive Discipline program, when I phoned her up. “You can’t control a child’s perceptions or what a child decides or what a child believes because two children can see the same event and make different decisions. So, that’s why we can’t take all the credit or blame.”

Parents can’t stop the rivalry from happening but they can do a lot to minimize its impact. “First of all when parents agree on how to parent, that creates an atmosphere of cooperation and energy. And when parents have opposite opinions, which they most of the time have, that increases the rivalry.”

Jane came up with a great example on how to handle rivalry in toddlers. At first I found it somewhat counterintuitive. “Let’s say a toddler takes a toy away from his younger sibling – what do most mothers do?”

“Well, they punish the older one, the aggressor,” I mumble, puzzled about what would be wrong with that approach.

“Exactly. So what you are doing when you swoop in and protect the younger and punish the older child? You are increasing sibling rivalry because you are doing bully-victim training. You are teaching the older one to be a bully by punishing him. So then he learns – oh I can punish someone who’s smaller than me and they are training the younger one to be a victim. That smart little guy or girl is going to learn so quickly: Oh the way to feel special around here, all I need to do is to annoy the older one so that mummy and daddy won’t see it and so they will always think it’s the others fault.”

Dr. Nelsen continued, “what helps a lot in improving behavior is when the older sees that they are both treated the same. It’s hard to do, I’m not saying it’s easy to do but it’s so important to do if we possibly can.”

The Importance of Siblings Rivalry

“I think that sibling rivalry is important,” Dr. Nelsen continues. “I don’t think we should try to eliminate all of it. But I think it is detrimental if parents are always jumping in and taking sides. Then it has long lasting negative effect on children’s’ relationship. If a parent intervenes to take the side of one and not the other, then that’s not a good socialization. But if they say, ‘I’ll take this toy until you guys can figure out a way to share or you can go to separate areas until you are ready to try it again,’ that’s great socialization.”

To finish our conversation, Jane gave me a great rule of thumb for the toddler years and beyond.

“Treat your kids the same. It is like you talk to both of them even if the youngest one can’t understand. They understand the energy. They understand the actions, even if they don’t understand the words”.

 

Life-long Attachment Parenting

There will be another day and another chance to get it right.

When I was a little girl, I hated my father as much as I could. He was the most unloving, torturing, awful person in the whole wide world, and so was my self-talk 30 years ago.

At the same time, I adored my mother. She was the center of my universe. She was warm, caring, loving but strict; a strong woman who profoundly formed my idea of a perfect woman I wanted to be.

As time passed and my rebellious teen years came down on us – my relationship with both parents changed dramatically.

Now, in my very late thirties, I have to admit that my father became my very good friend and my relationship to my mum turned somewhat sour.

A few years ago I’ve asked my dad how being a parent felt for him when I was very young. He confessed that he felt lost; he didn’t know what to do with a young child. Between the lines I could hear that he was bored and frustrated. There was nothing he could have shared with a “baby-me” that was of interested to him.

My mum, on the other hand, enjoyed her role as a perfect mother. I was her world and she was mine.

As children grow, their needs of emotional and physical intensity of their relationship to parents evolve. None of my parents have changed their parenting style or attitude over the time. But I, as a child and as an adult, have changed. My needs are now met by my somewhat distant and overly-intellectual father much better than by my overbearing mother.

There is a lesson for me to learn here: even if you didn’t start on the right foot you still will get a chance to get it right and to enjoy a deep, loving relationship with your children.

Nowadays, somewhat wiser and more in control of my emotions, I work to re-build my loving relationship with my mum. I know there is a chance. There is always a chance to build it up again. The beauty of close relationships is that we can start over and over again. The beauty is in the endless possibilities to get it right if we so wish.

Attachment is not something that happens to newborns and toddlers – attachment is something that we all take care of throughout our lives. We are attached to our children; our children are attached to each other and to their parents, grandparents and nannies, preschool teachers and best friends.

If one of these many relationships stops working there will be a multitude of others to pick up and heal the broken pieces. Long after we are gone our children will have siblings, friends and spouses to feel connected to.

And so, every time I plague myself with my next “guilty mama” thought I remind myself that there will be another day and another chance to get it right. I remind myself that my children need many relationships that work and that as long as they have someone they love and trust they will be fine, just fine!

Mother’s day will be the day to celebrate love

“Mother’s Day is your day to celebrate the way you choose. This day for us single women is all about recognizing the amazing life we have created. Celebrate yourself. You are a strong amazing woman. Take pride in that.”

Bouquet 2
flickr/KazAndrew

 

I never wanted to celebrate Mother’s Day – I never saw much point in it. Not as a child and not once I’ve became a mother myself. What is there to celebrate? And yet – this year I decided to start celebrating it.

At first it seemed that a lot of women would agree with my negative attitude towards this holiday. For example, would you be looking forward to it if you were a single mom of a very young child? Would you celebrate this day at all?

“Mother’s Day as a single mom has been like a box of chocolates. And by that I mean the cheap kind.” One mom says. “It’s a hard day for me, quite frankly.”

Another woman shares, “because I have to do all of the work. I cook, I entertain, and I try to celebrate my own mother. I usually end up feeling exhausted on the day that I should be given a break”.

“I love my children more than anything, but to be honest, what I could really use on Mother’s Day, is a break!  A day alone.”

The number of moms dreading Mother’s Day is astounding. The grass is not greener on the married mothers side either. A survey by a gift retailer revealed that nearly half of mothers don’t like their presents, and according to ABC News, more married women join cheating websites the day after Mother’s Day than any other day of the year.

Are there mothers who actually enjoy this holiday? And if yes, what do they do or think differently? What is it that they are looking forward to? Breakfast in bed? Flowers? A recent poll by Babyzone.com asked their visitors this question. The overwhelming majority of nearly 2000 participants wanted to spend a great day together with the whole family (40%) or to treat themselves to a day in a SPA (26%), closely followed by an entire day of napping (14%).  Check out Spa Source they offer facial beds/massage tables that can be used in your day spa, salon or private skin care practice.

“With crazy schedules, school, sports, work, we use it as a time to be together, not for alone time. I can go to the spa any time I want. On Mother’s Day, I want to spend it with the person who gave me the opportunity to be a mother on Mother’s Day, my daughter!”

My best friend is a single mom of a 4-year-old girl. Her husband died two years ago and my friend is still not really over her loss. When I asked her about the upcoming Mother’s Day, I was quite surprised to find out that she was looking forward to celebrating it.

“Mother’s Day is your day to celebrate the way you choose. This day for us single women is all about recognizing the amazing life we have created. Celebrate yourself. You are a strong amazing woman. Take pride in that.”

When I looked around I quickly discovered that the group of dissatisfied mothers mostly was complaining about not getting the right present, or no gift at all. Those who felt that their families should thank mothers for all the hard work were disappointed quite often.

Women who were very positive about Mother’s Day focused on pro-actively celebrating their relationship with children, grandparents and friends. As one mom has put it,

“I think we should be celebrating our mothers, and even our sisters, daughters, grandmothers and aunts on Mother’s Day.“

The more positive accounts about happy Mother’s Days I read the more I want to celebrate it myself.

As one of the moms suggested to me, “go with your child and do something fun together. Go to a park and have a picnic. Talk with your child and let them know how much you appreciate them. Write a letter to your baby or child and tell them how you feel about being their mommy!”

And this is exactly what I am going to do this year – I will start a tradition in our house. Mother’s Day will be a day to celebrate love. The most selfless and enduring love on Earth – mother’s love to her children.

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