Monday, 7 October 2013

Sibling rivalry... is it all Punch & Judy or should we be more concerned?

I clearly remember the moment we arrived home from hospital with my eldest daughter, a bumpy entry into the world with a few wobbles along the way but it was so amazing to finally be at home. It was enchanting to watch her looking around, taking in whatever she could see with her little eyes.  It was calm, emotional and exciting all at the same time.

Fast forward 23 months and there we were again, daughter number two being carried over the threshold, only this time, I was more concerned about her basic survival than whether or not she favoured the colour scheme we'd chosen for the nursery!

Our eldest, a bouncy little bundle of fun was only too eager to dip her plump little paws into the car seat to investigate what Mum and Dad had been protecting with such care and adoration.  We were very conscious of wanting to ensure that we enjoyed every second of those first few precious moments at home with our newborn but we also wanted to ensure that her big sister was made to feel just as special and included in the whole event.

Time moved on and before we knew it, our lives had become a strange mix of precious moments watching our girls have a cuddle on the sofa to the heart-stopping moments when our youngest stopped a flat hand on the head.  Interesting range of emotions in that first year.

Fast forward a further twelve months and all of a sudden, the focus is on sharing, or not as it were.  Until now, our eldest had lived in a kingdom all of her own, a queen of her castle if you like.  The toys and games she'd amassed had become like her own private haul of royal treasure, dare he who tries to share in the abundance. 

Inevitably, no. 2 starts crawling, toddling and before we knew it, attaching her tentacle like fingers to everything our eldest holds dear.  This can only mean one thing, show-down time.  This applies to toys, Mummy's attention and even the ownership of the long suffering and long forgotten cat.  Anything is game at this stage.  Snatch, grab, smack, pull, dump, whack... Happy days!

Only-child syndrome isn't pretty when the title holder is demoted to a mere sibling.  By their very nature, children are territorial, jealous and in need of constant attention - survival skills raging from day dot.  As if life wasn't hard enough existing on the rare full-night's sleep that occurs when both children seem to be well at the same time, the benefits of which are quickly sucked out of you when the light of day arrives and its back to the hamster ball of life.  How on earth are you going to manage this, meeting the needs of your older child while still being as loving and nurturing to your no. 2 as you were with no. 1?

Consider the following strategies to ease the journey:

Equality applies even in the early years!  
It is important to show equal affection to both / all children.  It is easy to find yourself in a pattern of " don't do stop it.... no.1 don't hurt your brother, that's not nice" and so on.  Avoid using the word "no" as much as possible, find a positive way to restructure your responses.  If there is a danger that your younger child is in harm’s way, create a distraction and avert any possible feud.  If there is general rough and tumble or squabbling over a toy, let them at it!  It is healthy for both children to learn that they can fight their own battles.  It builds character and creates self-reliance rather than looking for others to take charge on their behalf.  

Nothing can replace one to one attention
Planning ahead for times when you can have individual time alone with each child is essential to the emotional health and well-being of both / all children.  Take the opportunity to explain to your older child/children that they are very special in your life and even more special now that they are going to be role models and helpers in caring for their younger sibling.  You can do activities that are age appropriate with the older child, explaining to them that it is something special that is just for the two of you and perhaps, one day when your younger child is a little older, no. 1 could share the same game in the way Mummy does, with no. 2.  One to one attention is so important, every day at an allocated time to ensure that your older child can rely on the security of that special time together rather than acting out constantly as a way of getting your full attention. 

Build your own family team!
By involving one or both of your children as appropriate, in daily tasks, you can include them in what you are doing around the house and also offer them each their own responsibilities.  It could be loading the washing machine, putting dry clothing into the basket, sorting the plastic container cupboard etc...  This will distract both children from their need to fight to get your attention before the other one does and you can still get on with the tasks around the house or at the supermarket without total chaos unfolding every 10 minutes.

Be positive
It is just as important to reinforce the positive, desirable behaviour that your children exhibit as it is to discourage the negative with consequence or distraction.  Positive reinforcement will, in time, teach your children that good things happen when you exhibit certain behaviour and it doesn't feel as good to do the opposite!

It is so easy to get caught up in the day to day cycle of bickering, distracting, feeding, changing and putting to bed that before long, you can lose sight of the reason why you chose to have a family in the first place.  Your children are the most incredible gift you'll ever receive, appreciate them, love them and as hard as it is at times, guide them.  You can't go back and change it when they're older.  The early years will fly by, enjoy the good bits and when the wheels fall off, just remember... you're doing the best you can and no-one is perfect.  Your children will love you for being there for them and one day, they'll appreciate the true value of all the hard work you have invested in them over the years.  

Happy parenting!