In November, this column focused on the advantages of having siblings: bonding, solidarity and unconditional love and support.
In March, it addressed sibling rivalry and the importance of children learning to open and accept others, have their egos challenged for the first time, and deal with jealousy. This column concentrates on what to do with the acting out and possible fierce rivalry that can take place between siblings born to the same loving parents.
Lots of tension can develop depending on the individual temperaments of the children. Children are naturally moodier, quieter, bolder, relaxed, extroverted, more easily rattled or flexible, just like adults. A combination of certain dispositions can set off rivalry, but it also helps solve squabbling.
You know, as parents, the personalities of your children. Staying one step ahead and providing the quiet space when necessary for your son, and likewise arranging times when your louder daughter can be in the control she needs, heads off a lot of conflict. Set the activities, environments and downtimes to meet the needs of each child's personality.
Provide plenty of focused, individual attention to each of your children, without the other(s) around if you can. Even 15 minutes of doing a puzzle together, or playing catch or shopping, show that child that you care enough to spend this time with him/her. There won't be as much desperation and competition for your attention.
Appreciate and help each child discover his/her own uniqueness. Mention to your son that he seems to love painting and he blends his colors well. This will give him an acknowledgement of his specialness, and more confidence next to his sister, who may have just won the soccer trophy.
More hands-on ideas:•Try not to get involved in your kids' spats if you can; they will learn volumes by trying to work it out themselves.
•Be a role model by sharing difficulties you are having with another adult; show kids how to work something out. This is powerful.
•Separate kids until they are calm; give them space to cool down before you rehash the conflict.
•Don't put much focus on who is to blame - it takes two to fight.
•Try to set up "win-win" situations so each child gains something. If they are fighting over the same toy, take it away and present a game they can play together.
•Set ground rules for acceptable behavior.
•Don't let kids think that everything has to be fair or equal; sometimes one child needs more than the other.
•Have fun together as a family and establish a peaceful way for your kids to spend time together.
•Consider family meetings with school-aged children to go over rules, review past successes or develop point-earning programs to encourage good behavior if necessary.
Remember, as kids cope with disputes, they also learn important skills that will serve them for life - like how to value another person's perspective, how to compromise and negotiate and how to control aggressive impulses.
Martha McClellan has been an early childhood educator, director and administrator for 32 years. She currently is consulting with and supporting early-care providers. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.