As a parent of two or more young children, you constantly clean up after, scold, praise or bathe one or the other. Some days, the never-ending running around after them can drive you up the wall! What’s more, dealing with the almost moment-by-moment squabbles and tussles can be physically exhausting and emotionally draining as well.
“Why can’t you be nice to your sister?” you yell. Or “Don’t you let me see you hit your brother like that again!” And the ultimate “You don’t want to share? Fine. No one gets to play. Go to your rooms NOW.” (Cue loud wails and screams of “It’s not fair!”)
You ask yourself “What did I do wrong??” Where is the magazine-worthy scene of brothers playing trains together or sisters dressing up Barbies for the ball? After all, the whole reason why you decided to have kids so closely spaced is because you wanted to give them a playmate, someone special to grow up with together.
Take heart – you are very much not alone. And it’s okay.
Sibling rivalry is very much part and parcel of the growing up experience of any young child with a brother or sister. It doesn’t mean they hate each other or will never share whispered secrets or that last donut on the plate, but it does mean you may have to drastically adjust your expectations of what ‘a loving family’ looks like, especially during these early years.
What’s key is creating an environment that encourages your young ones to play together without fighting tooth-and-nail over every little thing. Seek ways to nurture their skills in problem solving, so that they don’t have to run to you for every dispute. For example, teach them how to ask for permission if they want to play with the same toy, and what it means to take turns. Simply enforcing a “Just share!” rarely improves the situation, especially in the long term. One of the best ways to encourage your children to play together is to assign them a task to complete side by side, so they have a common goal to work towards.
Here are some suggestions for activities that can be conducive for building bonds between your children:
1. Sensory Play
Any type of play that stimulates the senses of touch, smell, taste, sight and hearing, will likely engage your young children. Seasonal and themed sensory bins are a great way to occupy your children for longer periods of time and promote their collaborative efforts. Simple art-and-craft activities (eg. play dough) or music sessions (eg. shaking various noisemakers to the tunes of their favourite songs) are also great ways to encourage your children to have fun together.
2. Role Play
Young children, especially toddlers, love to play dress-up! Role-playing is a great way to engage your children’s creativity and imagination, and allows them to experiment with and develop their own fantasy worlds. And since you can’t role-play by yourself (Doctor needs a patient, teacher needs a student, etc), your children will learn to coorperate and communicate such that the world that is ‘created’ is one that both enjoy.
3. Cooking & Cleaning
Who doesn’t like being “a big help to mummy”? Include your children in handling various chores around the house. Little hands can peg up towels, wipe dishes, pick up toys and books, and magic mop the floor. They can also help you in the kitchen – whisking, stirring, counting out spoons and forks, passing you ingredients, etc. It’s good training for young ones, we tend to spoil and molly-coddle them too much most of the time anyway. Best of all, when they are working on helping you together, they are not working against each other anymore.
Give kids a project they can call their own. And besides, most kids love dirt and watching ants scurry about. A garden plot – whether it’s a proper outside lawn or a row of indoor plant pots – offers them a new happy place to just sit and watch and poke around. Include your kids in fertilizing the soil, planting seeds, watering the ground, picking the weeds, and tracking the growth of any produce! You can even get them to keep a log book and draw what they see is happening on and around the plant(s) from day to day.
5. Have daily reading time
Set aside a pocket of time for reading time where your elder toddler can practice reading to your younger child. You’d be surprised how much he might enjoy having such a captive audience. And then, you read to your older toddler while your younger child flips through picture books. Everyone gets their ‘fix’ and your firstborn learns that he can put his newfound skills to good use!
6. Organize a game
Think of a game that offers your children of varying ages some challenge, but gives them a common goal to work towards, and doesn’t have an obvious winner or loser. For example, arrange a treasure hunt for items around the house, or create an obstacle course for one child to lead the other, blindfolded, through. Explain the rules clearly to them, encouraging them to work together to reach their objective. Avoid asking your elder one to show the younger one what to do, so you maintain as level a playing field as possible. Of course, you’ll need to supervise the game to make sure all children are actively taking part. Praise them at every turn, and enjoy the moment!
By Dorothea Chow
This article was first published in The New Age Parents e-magazine
Any more tips and ideas to share on creating a stronger sibling bonding? Share them with us!