With two children of the same gender, I hate to buy 2 of everything or something that is not age appropriate for one… yet the kids don’t want to “share” a brand new present. How do we tackle gift giving that doesn’t foster serious sibling rivalry?
Sibling rivalry, while normal and healthy, often gets out of control. Many parents ask me how they can be fair with their children who are of different ages and have different needs. How can they stop the fighting or demands to get what their sibs have or want? One parent tells me she can’t pour milk without the kids demanding they get exactly the same. They actually measure the height with their fingers. Others parents can’t drive without fights over who sits in front. Even when parents attempt to be fair, most children only seem to want more constantly. What’s the solution?
The best approach is to give up trying to slice everything down the middle. Define for children what “Fair” really means. Turns out, fair isn’t that everyone gets exactly the same… It means we get what we need or deserve. For example, a five year old feels upset because his older brother receives a bike on his birthday. There are two important things going on. First, it’s important the five year old understand that he’s not old enough to have a bike like his brother. He’s developmentally not ready. His legs and arms and body aren’t yet ready to ride the bike safely. When he’s older he can get one. Sure he’ll cry, but that’s his way of recognizing the world can be tough at times. Second, the five year old learns that he can’t get a present every time someone else does. Birthdays are worth waiting for, and that’s what makes them special. He’s learning to hold back his desires and be rewarded down the road. Many researchers feel this is what helps children become happy and successful adults – learning to delay gratification.
What about sharing? That’s really tricky. Do you buy two of the same thing simply because each child wants one for themselves? If you do, you might hear less fighting, but it won’t last. You’ll be accidentally communicating the wrong message – that the world had unlimited things and that we don’t have to share our resources (or match box cars, etc.). Certain toys may not be easily shared of course, but think about the message you’re sending just to keep the peace. Particularly in these difficult economic times, with so many children far less fortunate, a better message to convey would be we can’t always have what we want when we want it… it makes me sad and upset too, but maybe we can enjoy the things we do have now and wait… maybe if we’re nicer to other they’ll share… maybe we can offer something to them too.
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