Learning to get along with others is one of the most important lessons that each of us learns. For most children their first opportunity for learning how to get along is with brothers and sisters. Family life offers a wonderful training ground for developing values of cooperation, honesty, kindness, and tolerance of others.
Learning important social skills takes time. Living with brothers and sisters can give a child a lot of practice in learning how to share and resolve conflicts. And with the right kind of guidance from parents, it also can give children a lot of practice in learning how to be cooperative, supportive, and nurturing to others.
Parents are their children's most important teachers. It takes a lot of careful thought and patience to teach young children how to get along. But if a good foundation is laid early on, kids will become very capable at resolving their differences when they are older. If you do your job well in the early years, you will be able to stay more on the sidelines as your children grow and mature. The idea is to spend more time coaching kids than being a referee!
Children need to know how to
Infants love to watch older siblings. Toddlers enjoy playing alongside others and may try to imitate older children. But it is not until well into age three that children are really ready to play together in a cooperative way.
Four- and five-year-olds dearly love to play with other children and are just learning basic lessons about taking turns and sharing. But learning to get along takes many weeks and months. Squabbles and tearful injuries can surface within seconds.
Think about the age of your child and use good judgment. Sometimes it is enough to just keep a watchful eye on children while busying yourself with other tasks. At other times you will need to be prepared to step in and take action. Always be alert for those special moments when you can teach children the skills they need to get along.
Let children know that it is never okay to physically hurt each other. The first time this happens, get down on their level, look them firmly in the eye and say "It is not okay to hit your brother. We do not hurt people in our family. I never want to see you do that again." Then teach your child how to make amends by saying he or she is sorry.
Making eye contact and saying your rule with absolute seriousness will convince most children that you mean what you say. Keep rules simple but clear, and repeat them frequently. Children learn from repetition and will soon learn to quote the rules in times of conflict. Emphasize the idea that these rules are family rules.
Sometimes just the way you set up your home environment can encourage problems with children. Ask yourself, "What about our home might make it hard for our children to get along?"
Take a room-by-room inventory and look for possible changes that can make life easier and a bit more peaceable.
Start young. From the very beginning let children know that they are expected to treat each other fairly. Let your kids know that hurting each other is not okay.
Take 30 seconds to stop, look and listen. This definitely helps you get a better idea of what kids are fighting over. Take the next 30 seconds to think about how you should respond to the situation. Thirty seconds doesn't seem like very long, but you will be amazed at how it helps you to keep your cool and take charge in an effective way.
It is OK to treat children differently. The important thing is not to devalue one child over the other. Focus on the positives of each child's personality and interests.
Think cooperation instead of competition. For example, rather than having children race each other to pick up toys, set a timer and have them race together to beat the clock. Try to find at least one thing every day that kids can work together to accomplish.
Look for opportunities for children to help each other. Even very young children can bring diapers, help feed the baby, cuddle a younger one who is upset, or push the stroller. Make at least one weekly chore a team effort. Setting the table, feeding the birds, emptying the dishwasher, and raking leaves are good jobs for learning how to work together.
Help children to problem solve. Take the time to help them discuss the problem, brainstorm solutions, and try to work things out. The time you invest early on will save a great deal of time years later because they will become so good at it, they will be able to solve most problems themselves.
Remember that you are on stage-a real-life stage. Your kids watch what you do very closely. Show your children how to be patient with each other by talking in a calm voice, giving clear directions, and avoiding angry comments.
Teach your children what to do when they are angry. Walk away from the situation, count to ten, go hug a stuffed animal, or ask an adult for help.
Remember to thank your children for getting along. "It's great to see you two working together to rake leaves" or "Thanks for helping your sister pick up her toys." Remember also to remind your children to thank each other. "I bet Megan would feel good if she heard a thank you for helping you to set the table."
Have regular rules and routines so children know what to expect. Children should know that they are always expected to clean up their toys before bedtime or feed the pet right before dinner. If parents are consistent, kids have a better idea about what is needed from them in everyday family life.
Consult with children. When older children continue to fight, sit down with them and ask their advice. Sometimes kids can come up with very good suggestions for resolving a persistent problem.
Develop a family motto or slogan. Hearing a family motto helps small children feel the security of belonging to a strong family. Say your motto during everyday routine times such as eating dinner, and say it to children when conflict arises. Sample mottos:
One of the best teaching tools for families are children's books. The following are family favorites:
A Baby for Max by Maxwell Knight
A Baby Sister For Frances by Russell Hoban
Baby Sister Says No by Mercer Mayer
Big Brother by Charlotte Zolotow
Big Sister, Little Sister by Charlotte Zolotow
Do You Know What I'll Do? by Charlotte Zolotow
Go and Hush the Baby by Betsy Byars
I Love My Baby Sister ( Most of the Time) by Elaine Edelman
Just Me and My Little Brother by Mercer Mayer
Just Me and My Little Sister by Mercer Mayer
Me Too! by Mercer Mayer
Nobody Asked If I Wanted A Baby Sister by Martha Alexander
On Mother's Lap byAnn Herbert Scott
Peter's Chair by Ezra Jack Keats
That New Baby by Sara Bonnett Stein
The New Baby by Fred Rogers
Let Me Tell You About My Baby by Roslyn Banish
Walk Home Tired, Billy Jenkins by Ianthe Thomas
Kids Can Cooperate, Elizabeth Crary, Parenting Press, 1984.
Perilous Rivalry: When Siblings Become Abusive, Vernon Wiehe, McMillan, 1991.
Siblings Without Rivalry, Adele Faber & Elaine
Mazlish, W.W. Norton, 1987.
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