As a nanny I have cared for five sets of twins and children of all different ages. However, while caring for twin girls, I vividly remember constantly being asked by family members, passersby on the streets, moms at the park and even nannies just like me – “How do you do it?” “How do you make it look so easy?” “How do you get them to listen so well?” My response was always the same “kids are never too young to learn, and I have found that they always embrace structure.” I further explained that at a very early age, the girls were taught the fundamentals of good behavior, conflict resolution and how to interact with each other. Also, I have come to the realization that children function better when they are given more details. In other words, it is very important to explain everything that is worth explaining. This way they would have a clearer understanding of what is happening in their surroundings in addition to what they are being asked to do.
The guidance and structure the twins received as they developed from one stage to another, was integral in developing the qualities needed to be better at problem solving and interacting with others. I’m sure as parents we can all remember when our children were infants and all they did was eat and sleep. We often longed for the day when they would become more verbal and more active. There is no doubt that as parents we enjoyed those moments when our children were able to interact harmoniously.
For instance, one evening while caring for the twins, I heard a burst of laughter which prompted me to look in on them. The girls were laying across from each other on the living room floor laughing hysterically. One twin would lay on her back and roll from side to side while the other would laugh loudly. They’d took turns doing this for quite some time. This was the first time that I visibly saw them acknowledge one another in that way. It wasn’t long after, they started getting into trouble together. They would toss their meals at each other, make huge splashes in the bathtub, and even interrupted each other as they nap. Although, it was difficult at times caring for two active and precocious toddlers, I still consider their behavior to have been cute and playful because they were functioning in togetherness.
Then one day everything changed, as they became antagonistic towards each other. They began fighting over every little thing. They fought over their toys; they fought over who would press the elevator button; and they even fought to sit on my lap! They were just at it constantly. The girls were about two and a half years old at that time. Although, it is customary to refer to this stage as the “TERRIBLE TWOS” it is extremely important to begin fostering some positive rules and guidelines to help them co-exist with each other. As parents, caregivers and teachers it is imperative to identify our role as we guide our toddlers while laying a good foundation that will translate into appropriate behavior as they grow older. Here are some guidelines along with some tips that I have implemented which has proven to be effective:
Encourage Communication: Make it a law of the land that your children listen to one another. Good communication is vital for any relationship, especially between siblings. In addition, good communication encourages the ability to be empathic to someone else’s feelings, needs, opinions and thoughts.
TIPS – Have your children take turns talking out their issues with one another; ensure that one listen attentively while the other is talking. Allow them to explain what they were told to ensure that they understood. It is also important to make sure an apology is given if the situation warrants one.
Promote Empathy and Understanding: Teach your children the importance of being considerate of each other’s feelings. Encourage model behavior that would enable them to show empathy.
TIPS – Have a dialogue with your child about different types of emotions. This way they can begin to process the feelings of others. Ask “How would you feel if someone took your toy? Would you feel happy or sad?” or “How do you think Frankie felt when you took his favorite toy? Do you think it was okay to take his toy away?” Although, they maybe too young to fully comprehend the complexity of the questions, you are helping them develop the thought process; so by the time your child turns five, they would be closer to understanding how empathy works.
Teach Them to Respect Each Other’s Uniqueness: It is easy for temperaments and conflicts to occur when siblings share different interests. Teaching them how to work together and how to enjoy each other’s company and interests, while staying true to who they are, is important.
TIP – You can implement a system whereby once or twice each week your children take turns doing something that the other enjoys.
Create A System That Consistently Distributes Taking Turns: Although most people won’t admit it and some honestly aren’t aware that they do it, we sometimes tend to favor one child more than the other. One child may have a much calmer personality; therefore, you feel more comfortable taking him/her out with friends. Or perhaps one child is much more independent than the other etc. No matter your reason for the favoritism, actions like these can cause a child to feel left out or not loved and as a reaction, they are more compelled to lash out. It’s important to be mindful of our behavior and your child’s feelings. Also, by practicing the “take turn system” your child would develop the ability to share easily as they play with each other and peers.
TIPS – Take turns taking them out for a special one on one time with mommy or daddy at least once a month. Also, with simple day to day activities such as pressing the elevator button, taking their baths, getting them dress, or playing with a special toy etc., ensure that they are taking turns. This way nobody feels left out. This is a very simple technique but it is very effective and can minimize sibling rivalry.
Don’t Compare Your Children To Each Other: No two people are the same! Making a comparison between your children is a sure way to encourage built-up resentment which would later lead to them fighting with each other because one would eventually feel inferior to the other.
TIP – Instead of saying “Katie was advanced; she walked at ten months and Sara was a bit slow she walked at fifteen months,” try saying something like “Each girl walked when they developed the confidence needed to let go of my hands.” In addition to this, each child should be given his own individualized sets of goals and expectation that are in line with their abilities.
Praise Your Child Whenever They Follow the Rules: Whether it’s sharing a toy with a sibling or completing their chores, praising your child boosts their self-esteem and promote the desire to do well and explore new things. It is important that we recognize accomplishments big and small, and reward accordingly.
TIPS – A great way to encourage good behavior is to have a reward chart. List the things that are important to you such as sharing, playing nicely, cleaning up toys, etc. At the end of the week, once they have met their weekly goals, present them with an inexpensive but flattering gift.
It’s also imperative that parents, caregivers and teachers follow the rules as well. Children often practice what they see and hear, therefore lead by example. Check out the Dara Publishing website and download a reward chart today www.darapublishing.co.
Explain The “Why and Why Not” To Your Child: Children work best when they know why they are being asked to do or not do something. Having the situation explained to them would further help them to be more readily opened to complying to your request.
TIP – Instead of saying to your child “You have to eat all of your dinner,” how about you say “You need to eat all of your dinner so you would be healthy and strong just like mommy and daddy. Or, “You need to eat in order to have lots of energy to play at the playground.”
Applying these tips promises to bring about positive change. In addition to my experiences and techniques listed above, here are a few books which are great tools to achieve your goals:
Talk and Work It Out (Learning to Get Along) by Cheri J. Meiners M.Ed.
Know and Follow the Rules by Cheri J. Meiners M.Ed.
Accept and Value Each Person by Cheri J. Meiners M.Ed.
Thanks for reading my blog; please be sure to leave a comment.