If someone was to tell me that there is some magical formula to parenting toddlers – specifically toddler siblings – I’d laugh. And laugh and laugh and laugh. It’s not that I don’t believe in the ‘science of parenting,’ or well-researched, or experiential theories; it’s just that I think there’s a mad combining to it all. Topped off with a heavy dose of natural, gut instinct.
There was a time, not too long ago, where I was in a real dead-zone. Where I questioned my mothering skills and those instincts. Where every inch of my skin felt as though it was on fire with doubt. How’s that for magical? I reached out to the experts for advice and, honestly? I did find some solace there. Real comfort in gaining some new perspective, approaches to try out and theories to chew on.
I think the turning point for me was realizing that things will always be like this. They wax and wane; bulge and pulsate and burst from both beautiful joy and maddening frustration. I’ve just learned to accept those less than ‘blissful’ realities about parenting and there’s been some grace in even that. The kind of sticky, slimy, kicked in, smudged-up grace that you couldn’t shake even if you wanted to.
The thing of it is, I wouldn’t trade it (parenting), or them for all of the world, even on the days that a toddler tsunami has barreled through my home. I’m four years in now and have come up with a few experiential theories myself. The toddler sibling battle-zone is no place for a weakling. May the force (and some of my own tried-and-true methods), be with you.
How We Do 1 of 11
On avoiding (if you can help it), and resolving sibling conflict during the toddler years.
1. Stick To Your Routine 2 of 11
I notice a huge difference in how my kids treat and play with each-other when they are well fed and rested from when they aren't. If they missed a nap or didn't want to eat all of their dinner or woke up super early in the morning for example, their mood will reflect that; thus how they treat one another. I myself have way more patience to breathe and work through their conflicts as they arise when I'm not exhausted, starving or in dire need of a coffee. I have to remember to take care of myself first so that I can be as patient as they need me to be with them. Tired and hungry makes for grumpy kids just as with us adults.
2. Be a Harmonious Role Model 3 of 11
Modelling happiness shouldn't be fake or contrived - obviously it should be a natural state of being. We all have our days, right? I'm very conscious of avoiding conflict with my partner in front of our kids. What we do exhibit is lots of displays of affection. Little kids pick up on and mimic far more than we give them credit for. My partner and I went through a rough patch last fall and winter and I definitely noticed a behavioral change in our kids. While we weren't having full-on brawls in front of them or anything, they totally picked up on the tension and displayed as such when they were playing together, or having to follow instructions or routine.
3. Give Them One-On-One Time 4 of 11
If you favor a child (which in all honesty I can't relate to, no judgement, just nope), DON'T. I make a habit out of having individual 'dates' with my kids and have witnessed time and again how it empowers both of my children in their own unique ways. They are calmer, more confident, empathetic to one another's needs, and respecting of each other when they each get some special time with their dad or me.
4. Respect Their Feelings 5 of 11
The biggest part of this is listening. I try not to dismiss how they are feeling and engage in conversation with them to try and get them to express their thoughts, as opposed to focusing on why they are frustrated or angry with their sibling. As long as it takes, I encourage them to get specific. Patience is key here. A technique that my partner and I favor is what we call, 'tag yer it.' If one of us is at the end of our rope and the kids are bickering non-stop and not listening to one of us, the other comes in to relieve the near-to-blowing one. To give them a little breathing time and fill up the well of patience again. This also switches things up on the kids and they pause to reassess where their unwilling audience went. Often this is enough to get them to cool their jets with each other without the whole family joining in on the meltdown action.
5. Not All Things Are Equal 6 of 11
Depending on the age difference between your children, much of their day-to-day routine and rules may differ. This can be a sore spot for kids, a lot of the time things like different bedtimes and times to come inside from playing don't seem fair. And that's okay. For a long while my two didn't have the same bedtime and although Abby was only entering into toddlerhood, she rebelled a bit at going to bed before her brother, especially if she could hear him playing and having fun. While I don't dismiss my kids' feeling on this stuff - I don't give into it either. I take the time to be consistent and age appropriate with my verbiage, and give them our reasons for whatever it is they're having a hard time accepting. The consistency does indeed pay off. Tiring and repetitive, you bet, but it works.
6. They Don’t Have to Share Everything 7 of 11
I let my kids have some of their own personal toys or books that they don't have to share with one another unless they want to. I give them their own space when I can tell they want to be on their own. For example, often Wyndham wants to build a tower or a big track of trains without his sister crashing and barreling through it. I let him close their bedroom door and have his own time with it while busying Abby with something else.
7. Don’t Entertain Drama 8 of 11
This means absolutely no name-calling or hitting or any other forms of physical aggression. Teaching them to be kind, honest, gentle, and respectful human beings is a top priority for me - above academic achievement, above much of anything really. Which means I definitely reward good behavior. Bribery works sometimes too. Again, just being honest. Everyday real mom stuff here.
8. Give Up on Perfect Ideals 9 of 11
Sometimes siblings fight and that's okay. I'm not here to give my kids the impression that they have to get along all the time. I want them to feel free to voice their opinions or their thoughts, even when it's difficult to do so.
9. Knowing the Differences 10 of 11
Between stepping in and letting them work it out on their own. Heck, I often don't know if I'm doing it right. So I flip a coin in my brain or I ask myself, 'did I intervene the last time? The time before that?' Just being honest. Of course I put more thought into it for the most part, I'm just saying I'm not perfect about it. My kids are still too young to always know how to resolve conflict in a peaceful way. Heck, do we ever really learn that all the time as adults? Nope. (Anyone who says they do? LIES.) It's helpful to have a mediator, someone who listens to both sides and thats me. I'm their gal.
10. Change the Scenery 11 of 11
Often all I need to do is intervene and switch things up a bit with their environment. If we've been cooped up inside for a few hours, it's time to take the hoopla outside. Sometimes it means splitting them up and giving them some space from one another.