Guest Author - Cynthia Parker
Single parents of more than one child frequently find themselves in a situation where they need to be two places at once. No, I cannot tell you how to accomplish this. If I could, I would be a rich woman. But perhaps I can help you retain your sanity in the face of sibling rivalry.
I know a single parent family with three small children, ages 2, 5, and 11. There is a constant battle for the attention of their single mother. It simply cannot be helped – they are all at attention-desiring ages. In typical fashion, the oldest is jealous of the youngest because they are the baby. The youngest wants to do everything the oldest does because she wants to be big. And the middle child feels completely ignored, being stuck between two such dynamic positions.
Mom is pulled in all directions, especially when she is trying to decipher the issues between her children. Whose to blame, who is most injured, and who is running the con are often questions that she asks herself, knowing that all her precious darlings are looking out for one goal – themselves. What is a mom to do?
• Unless physical harm is eminent; allow the kids to work it out for themselves. Obviously the 11 year old has a physical advantage over both of the other two children. However, if the issue is only that the 11 year old is aggravated because the two year old wants to follow her around, no harm is being done. The oldest may be aggravated, but remind her that her little sister is only following her around because she wants to be just like her and that she will eventually get bored and stop. In those rare cases of physical violence, you must intervene; however, do so in a manner whereas neither child believes themselves to have an advantage. If you must separate them, set them to separate tasks where it appears than neither has “won.”
• Do not give attention to negative behavior. I recognize that this is very hard to do. I am not asking that you allow bad behavior to be ignored. Instead, I suggest that bad behavior be “rewarded” with time-out or privileges removed so that the child does not receive a precious and valuable commodity – your time. Perhaps you are supposed to take the children to the park; however, one of them decides that throwing toys at their sibling would be more fun. Being a single parent, you cannot leave them with someone – there is no one! However, you can go to the park and have the unruly child sit on a bench while you play with the other children. Keep a close eye on the child, for safety’s sake, but focus all your energy on the other children. Remain close, not only for safety, but so the fun can be witnessed and the laughter heard. On the way home, remind the misbehaving child that they can have fun, too, the next time you go, IF they have learned to behave properly.
• Always keep your cool! The last think that you should do it let your children know that they are wearing down your nerves. You may feel that you are going to scream if you hear, “No, I’m not”, “Yes, you are” one more time, but don’t let them know. As long as things are remaining on the verbal level, no harm is being done. If they are of an age that they do not have to be watched constantly, move yourself to another area of the home and another task, so that they cannot further aggravate you. Send them outside! A verbal battle can take place effectively anywhere. Outside they will become more easily distracted from their battle and you won’t have to be in close quarters to the conversation. If the children are younger and you cannot use this “long distance” tactic, the best course of action is to get them interested in something new and different. Remove the item causing the argument and distract them with another activity. Also, children up to the age of 8 (and sometimes older) can benefit from a good, old-fashioned nap! (Parents can, too!) You know when your child is cranky and why better than anyone else.
I will never forget one of my daughters’ more creative “fights”. They were 6- and 10-years old at the time. It started at the dinner table when my oldest threw food at the youngest, who picked the food up off the floor and placed it back on her sister’s plate. After dinner, it progressed to the living room where the youngest walked through the room by going between the couch and the coffee table (though a more clear, wider path was available) just so she could brush up against her sister, who in turn stuck out her leg to trip her. The youngest continued down the hall to get her pajamas and head to the shower, but made a detour back into the living room to walk by her sister again and bean her on top of the head with her fist. It was a clean-cut, well-thought-out attack on the part of both of them. They attempted to use subtlety to avoid my detection, but by the time that little fist came down on top of that soft head, I was biting back my laughter. Being the last thing that I needed to do, I raced to my room to bury my face in the pillow. The youngest headed to the shower and once the water was running, the oldest went to the kitchen sink and turned on the hot water…just to hear her sister squeal when her shower turned icy. The war ended with a truce…for the night. They have both lived to “fight” many other battles…and so will yours.