My first 2 kids, XX and YH, are 2 years 2 mths apart. They are of opposite gender, they do almost everything together. They play together, eat together, snack together, sleep together in the same room, bathe together (sometimes), go to same pre-school and next year, same primary school, learn the same instrument (piano), watch the same cartoon, etc. This may sounds like they are the BFF (best friends forever) and you would have thought they are the perfect siblings anyone would love their kids to be. However, the truth is, they are just like any other siblings, they squabble most times too!
Because of their close age gap, they quarrel over almost anything. They fight over who has the bigger cookie, whose cup has the higher juice level (adults would never have noticed such microscopic difference). They fight over who sleeps beside their mummy or even which direction my face turns to while I sleep beside them! They fight for the same toys. You would have thought they play different nature of toys because they are not of the same gender. But apparently YH likes pink, likes Hello Kitty, likes girlish plushies or whatever his sister likes. That irritates XX and there it goes with complaints and squabbles. They fight over who play the piano first, whose turn to give their baby brother biscuit…and on and on they go.
This sibling rivalry can start early in the morning when they are hypersensitive to slight disturbance (or not). They kick up fuss on the slightest increase in decibel when the other kid talks, on the slightest touch on their body even though it may be just touching the hair ends. It got worse in the evening, especially if they miss their afternoon nap during the weekends. These squabbles get on my nerves particularly when I am busy with the baby or just got home from work. On days that I lose my cool, I will shout out from wherever I am, and sometimes, that doesn’t work as my shouts got lost as my voice travels across the house.
I have tried many ways, from shouts, punishment, trying to find out whose fault it is to following parenting advice of bringing myself down to their level, look them in the eye and let them feel I empathize with them. Although some of the ways above may work, I cannot keep up with the speed new squabbles start as soon as the previous one ends.
My takeaways from handling years of sibling rivalries:
1. Leave them to solve the squabbles themselves
No matter how hard you try to listen and be fair, you will never find out who started what. So, it is best to leave them to solve the problems themselves, provided the problem is not a serious one, like attacking the other kid with a sharp object. You can suggest ways to help them work it out themselves. For example, asking how they can resolve the problem, whether taking turns will work, or throwing dice to decide who goes first.
2. Acknowledge their bad feelings
This works quite well as far as I have tried. When your child comes running towards you, stop whatever you are doing, look them in the eye, show him that you are really listening to what he has to say / complain / pour, and tell them “I know you are feeling upset because your sister did not want to share her toy……” By acknowledging how upset he/she is, this would help to end the bad feeling fast and the child would be in a better mood to handle the conflict, or divert to doing something else.
3. Re-visit the squabbles after the incident
I don’t do this frequent, partly because the kids are not interested and the incident was over and they forgot how they felt earlier to want to hear much about it. But for those that warrant high attention like hitting or kicking or attacking as a reaction to solving the conflict, I would need to reiterate my point and discuss ways to prevent such things from happening.
4. Controlling emotions
Sometimes one kid can be so emotionally overwhelmed, he may resort to hurting the other sibling with violent means due to loss of control. This happened a few times with YH, which started as young as when he was only 2 years old. It is not frequent, but at times, he finds it hard to control his anger and can act out really badly. It is important for me and his dad to recognize this as not a case of naughtiness, but a reaction which he cannot control. When this happens, the first thing to do is to hug him tight, really, really tight to calm him down. It works all the time. And then come the part of soothing him, acknowledging his emotions and then letting him know we object to such behaviour and help him learn how to manage his anger.
All in all, I feel XX and YH, at this age, are BFF. They learn more about each other, care for each other and grow up with each other through “fighting” it out. I am sure as they grow up, they will fight less, each living his/her own life as they get busier with school and all. At least, they will look back and laugh at their childishness and reminisce their childhood days spent together be it happily or angrily.