Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Sibling Rivalry- Toddler Style

As young children my brother and I fought over everything: if we were going to watch Gummy Bears or My Little Pony, eat dinner at Skippers or the buffet at Sizzler, and most of all, who got Mom's attention.  As we aged, our sibling rivalry developed alongside our teenage angst.  We still argued over where to eat dinner and what TV show to watch, but we also incorporated battles over phone time, and how the other crunched her Doritos too loudly.

When the pregnancy test came back positive for the second time in two years, I immediately started to worry about how my children would get along.  I was determined to raise them in a peaceful household where everyone actually liked (or pretended to like) each other.  Once the ultrasound revealed that the new baby would be another girl, I imagined the two sisters at seventeen and fifteen bonding over pedicures, shopping trips, and how their mother should really stop wearing sleeveless dresses.  I long for them to one day gang up on my husband and me, creating a sibling bond, one that my brother and I never formed.
(I may or may not have bribed them to pose this way.)
However, some days the sibling hostility starts the moment each child has let out her first morning cry for "Mommmmmy!"  Some days it begins while debating what mommy will make for breakfast.  But, some days they wait until after I have finished my non-fat latte; those are the good days.

Last year Elana and Maisy most often fought over who got me, every single part of me.  When Elana was in the midst of a tantrum, she would insist, "I don't want Maisy to even look at Mommy!"  When Maisy needed me to herself, she'd pull Elana's hair and demand, "Me, Mommy, just me!"  Sometimes they would double-team me; four little hands pawing at my thighs screaming for me to pick up only them, not the other. And, sometimes I would slightly lose it.  Calm, yoga-centered mommy became irrational mommy with a searing headache.  I'd throw my own demonstrative tantrum and lock myself in the bathroom until I could once more face the monsters.

Now, at the ripe ages of five-and-a-half and three-and-a-half, they have matured not only in age, but in the ability to torment the other.  Both have mostly retired the use of physical torture and replaced it with sharp words.  Hair pulling, though still a favorite pastime, is now substituted for name calling.  "Baby", "Cry-Baby", "Bratty-Cat", "Boring", and "Boring Bratty-Cat" are the current choice insults.  And, telling the other that she is younger than her chronological age is guaranteed to get the desired reaction.  This morning Maisy spent the entire drive to school insisting that Elana was four. Each time Elana screamed, "I'm not! I'm FIVE!", Maisy would calmly turn her head in to her and resolutely affirm, "Four." Needless to say, by the time we reached the drop-off zone, the oldest one was in tears and the youngest was acting self-congratulatory.

While there are times I can laugh about, and tweet about, their nonsensical taunting, I spend much energy worrying that I am not fostering a home atmosphere that promotes healthy sibling relationships.  And, although my therapist continues to remind me that this is normal- that I should try to quiet my crowded mind- I did as I usually do, and decided to consult the experts.  Here are a few of the suggestions that I found most helpful.
  • Recognize each child's feelings, however illogical.  (Siblings without Rivalry "Elana, I understand that you don't want Maisy to look at me.  It must be hard to have to share Mommy all the time.  However, you can't poke Maisy in the ear with a bobby pin."
  • Stop the comparisons. (Every parenting expert)  No matter how difficult it may be, resist the urge to say, "Your sister isn't crying, so why are you?"
  • Hold family meetings. (Dr. Sears) Ted and I have tried this, numerous times. Unfortunately, the three-year-old has an attention span similar to that of a gnat with ADD.  By the time we've finished the sentence, "Mommy and Daddy need to talk with you two about this constant fighting," she's befriended the throw pillow and is deeply engrossed in her own conversation.
  • Let the children settle their own disputes.  (Child Development Institute)  This is by far my favorite tool, because it requires the least effort on my part.  When the girls are fighting, and blood has yet to be drawn, ideally I would say, "I have the confidence that you two can work this out." Then I would close the door to their room, and pour myself a glass of wine.
Still, I must admit that a small level of sibling rivalry can be entertaining.  Last week, during what I thought was a normal breakfast moment, Elana took a bite of her cereal, looked Maisy dead in the eyes, and pronounced, "Cheerios taste better in my mouth than your's!"


  1. having a common enemy help them bond too! i have been "attacked" by one of the kids while giving a time out to the other....I pretended they got me and they escaped in their room and made traps to prevent me from catching them. It was great they stayed in their room for over an hour!

    1. Thanks for the tip! I am more than happy to provide them with a common enemy!

  2. I have had exactly the same worries. I have to remind myself that my brother and I did our fair share of fighting as children too and were also extremely close. But (knock on wood!!) at ages nine and six I think I see the tides turning a little bit. My two seem to be on the same team a lot more recently and I'm hoping it sticks.

    1. Heather, maybe I should buy the girls matching team jerseys to help encourage camaraderie, "Team Advil".

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