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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A touch of sibling rivalry

Most of the time, Mira and Ellowyn play really well together.

Playing "Train"

Ellowyn tickling Mira's toes

Other times not so much.

It really wasn't a problem until Ellowyn started crawling.

Before Ellowyn was crawling, Mira went through a phase where she didn't want Ellowyn to have certain toys (or sometimes any toys).  But that was pretty easily handled by a combination of teaching Mira how to trade toys with Ellowyn and telling Mira that the rule is that she cannot grab toys out of Ellowyn's hands.  Things were under control.

Until Ellowyn started crawling.

Now Mira will be playing with something and (since Ellowyn thinks Mira is the bee's knees) Ellowyn will decide that she wants to play too.  But the way a baby plays is basically to mess things up and create chaos.  This really bothers Mira, as organized and orderly as she is.  So then Mira lashes out at Ellowyn, by pushing her away or snatching the toy away from her or yelling at her or something similar.  And Ellowyn doesn't understand what went wrong so she starts crying.

I've been reading various sources on the subject of sibling rivalry, and one common theme seems to be that the parents need to stay out of it as much as possible.  The reason for this makes sense to me: every time you intervene, you inevitably take sides (and taking sides only makes rivalry worse).  But I can't just stand by while Mira pushes Ellowyn over.  Having a baby in the mix complicates the "work it out yourselves" approach.  I've also read the tactic of putting a toy into time out if it is being fought over or having children take timed turns with a toy, but it seems to me like both of those tactics would have little bearing in my situation, since there is a baby involved.

My sister and I are 12 years apart, so I never experienced sibling rivalry first-hand.  I do have some experience with mitigating sibling rivalry from my years as a nanny, but all of those kids were older and there are lots of tactics that you can take with older kids.  I simply have no idea how to handle this when one of the kids is a baby with no concept of consequence or respect for others.

I know that, to some degree, sibling rivalry is just part of having children who are close in age.  And really, this is not that big a problem: as I said, most of the time the girls play great together.  I just hate feeling like I don't know if I'm taking the right approach on those occasions when they do have trouble playing happily together.

Mostly what I'm doing right now is using distractions with Ellowyn and giving Mira places to play where Ellowyn can't reach (up on the couch or at the table).  I also do use time outs with Mira as a consequence for physical violence, but that's rarely necessary.

Anyway, I would welcome any suggestions, if anyone has ideas that I've not thought of.


Anjea said...

That's a tough one, for all of the reasons you stated. Because Ellowyn doesn't understand (and really, to some degree, Mira doesn't understand why Ellowyn doesn't play the way Mira wants her to), you have to intervene via Mira. Keep explaining what happened, that Ellowyn doesn't understand/know how to share, etc. I think the taking turns with a toy is a great strategy, and if Mira doesn't want to take turns with it, then put the toy in time out.

I'll keep thinking on it. Hang in there, though - I'm sure you'll find a solution. You always do!

Marcy said...

As you could guess, we're going through the same things over here. I'm taking a similar approach to you-- when they're older and BOTH of them are capable of attempting to resolve things on their own, I'll let them do so. But to me it just seems unfair right now to simply "let them be" since Quinn is too young to know any better, and it also feels unfair to Donovan to make him "deal with it" (and it's also completely natural for him to want to "deal with it" by lashing out...).

Here's my approach so far: Quinn is a baby, and as such doesn't know better yet. I explain this to Donovan often. I let him know that I won't let *either* of them hurt each other, and that I expect him (D) to remember that but Quinn is too young to know better, but over time he'll learn.

I also try to give Donovan space to play on his own, where Quinn can't get to him. That's one rule that's starting to develop-- if D doesn't want Q getting into whatever he's playing with, he can take it someplace where Q can't reach. That can be the table, a high chair, his bedroom, etc. D can also ask me to take Q away, and I might then put Q in the exersaucer or go into a different room with him.

I'm also teaching D how to speak up for himself rather than physically pushing Q away. I give him sample phrases to use, both with Quinn and also to tell me that he's getting upset by what Quinn is doing. My hope here is that by giving him examples of what he can do/say, he'll eventually learn how to resolve these conflicts on his own (giving him the tools so eventually he doesn't need me to interfere). And, telling D that i's perfectly ok and normal to be annoyed by his brother, to not want to be around him sometimes, even to be mad at him (though it's NOT ok to actually hurt him) so that he knows that those feelings are normal and he doesn't have to feel bad about it.

It's been working out ok so far. Our biggest problem right now is more when D tries to play with Q and ends up being rougher than he means, either bc he just doesn't realize it or bc there's some mixed (and possible not even conscious to him at the time) positive/negative emotions in there, like he's not trying to hurt him but part of him is annoyed or whatever... it's that "accidentally on purpose" type of thing.

My hope is all this lays a foundation for them to be able to interact more peacefully and communicate better as they get older. We'll see how that works out... ; )

Erica said...

No advice, I just enjoy seeing 10 months into my own future.