With a three-year-old and a twenty-two-month old, sibling rivalry is no stranger in our house. While I try my best to shrug off some of the petty issues, believing boys will be boys, there are other times where I adamantly assert that the boys are going to share and play nicely.
With two boys simultaneously in the “mine, mine, mine, ALL mine” phase, sharing toys is a big issue. To creatively combat these situations, at first, I found myself purchasing two nearly identical items of everything. Their silverware, plates, sippy cups, pajamas, Doodle Pros, boxes of crayons and coloring books, you name it – are sometimes in different colors but nearly identical, or as close to being the same as I can muster. This isn’t because I want my boys to look like they’re twins, and I am not worried about either one of them lacking independence as I strongly encourage them to have their own identities. However, I found myself buying more of the same because it made my life as a mom a whole lot easier. A day can be extremely difficult when anything my youngest son has my oldest son wants. When this always seems to result in outlandish temper tantrums, it’s also exhausting playing referee, especially since my youngest son realizes all he needs to do is scream when something gets taken away from him and the mommy patrol arrives to smooth things over. Yet, I soon realized that it is impossible to have two of everything at all times.
Around then, I observed another mommy at a playgroup skillfully handle sibling rivalry between several other children, including her own. As the children were arguing over the toy, she quietly sat down near them and asked for the toy. Then she calmly asked the children, “What is more important? Friends or Toys?”
The question surprised many of the children as they stopped arguing to think about the answer. When a child incorrectly answered “toys,” the toy in dispute was taken away. The mommy explained, “I’m sorry you feel that way right now, but until we learn what’s really more important we’re not going to play with the toy.” The mommy never raised her voice. That was that. A few of the children looked stunned, but they all quickly found something else to play with and soon forgot about the other toy that was put away. In fact, no one even asked for that toy again.
At first I thought, wait a minute. She made that look entirely too easy. Yet, I watched this mommy do this several times. Same question of what was more important. Wait for an answer. And then resolve the argument with little to no fuss.
Figuring it was worth a shot in dealing with sibling rivalry at my own house, the next time my boys were arguing over toys I tried this tactic. The key is being consistent. Ask the same or similar question over and over and give the same or similar response over and over again. When my boys are arguing over something I always ask, “What is more important? Toys or your brother?” If the answer is “toys,” I apologize but explain why I have to put the toy away. When the answer is “my brother” I thank my son for loving his brother and not wanting to hurt his feelings even though I know it’s hard to share. Usually, my older son is okay relenting and letting his brother play with the toy for awhile longer and more receptive about waiting until it’s his turn to play with it.
I know this sounds too simple to be true, but it has really worked wonders for my little ones in dealing with their own sibling rivalry issues and also when they have friends come over to play. At those times, as a parent, I also have the opportunity to really model good behavior for the benefit of my own children as well as the children of others and I feel that’s very important.
Now, I have to force myself not to smile at least a little bit when I have to put a toy away while my three-year-old is jumping up and down calling after me, “No Mommy, No! What I meant to say was my brother! What I meant to say was my brother!”
But, both my sons are quickly learning the lesson and also that the choice between right and wrong is their own responsibility.
Now when dealing with children fighting over toys, I remember that mommy from the playgroup. She’s kind of like my mommy rival, but in a good way, as I strive to follow her example. This strategy is also one of the first things I share with other frustrated and exhausted moms who ask me how I ever manage to deal with my two rambunctious little ones. Sometimes the answers are little tricks of the trade!