By: Dr. Gregory Popcak
I have two children, ages 3 and 5, who often push each other’s buttons. They do play well together sometimes, but my three year old son loves to hear his five year old sister scream, and she seems to prefer to scream rather than being generous with her time and toys. Many times, this exchange has escalated into her screaming very unkind words at him, after which he wrestles her to the ground and begins hitting her. How should I handle these volatile moments when they occur, and what can I do to build a more amiable relationship between two personalities that at times seem like oil and water?
–“Wrestling with Wrestlers”
Socialization doesn’t come easy to small children. Little people have a hard time managing the big emotions siblings can generate and they need our help. By 6 or 7, children have an easier time handling feelings, impulses, and reactions, but until then, they still need a lot of supervising, coaching and structure. The best way to handle the volatile moments you describe is to anticipate and prevent them. Track when your children play well together. What are the circumstances that allow them to get along and how are those times different from the times they don’t? Is there a structured activity? Are you more present? Are they more rested or fed? Identify the differences that make the difference and then do your best to set up more of those situations. Catch them being good and ask yourself what you can do to create more of those times when success comes more naturally to them! For more ideas, check out my chapter on Sibling Revelry in Parenting with Grace: The Catholic Parents’ Guide to Raising (almost) Perfect Kids.