Note from Prerna: This is a guest post by Rivka Kawano of Beautiful Books for Children
Perhaps it is overstating it a bit to imply that reading a book to your children will help them overcome their desire to fight with each other. However, a book here, a book there, can all be part of your subtle brainwashing plan to help them value each other as not only siblings, but also as friends.
In a house of three boys, each 15 months apart, we are all too familiar with sibling rivalry.
And even the most innocent game of racing or super-heroes can quickly descend into chaotic competition. Since I don’t want to be a referee for the rest of my life, I have had to develop some strategies for coping. As with most other things in life, my first lines of defense are books. While we still have our moments, at least now I have some common ground from which to start with my boys reminding them to be kind and cooperative.
How can you do it too?
I look for sibling rivalry books or books that support one or more of the following ideas to help mold their thinking – because the best way to change a person’s actions is to change the way they think.
We’re all on the same team
When my children pretend to play race-cars, they are not racing each other. Instead, I am the announcer, and they are on a racing team against a whole slew of imaginary opponents. All three boys need to be careful not to bump into each other and to encourage each other so that their whole team can win.
Sports books, books about contests and competitions, books about famous athletes, they all become about our family. “Just like they are on a team together, we are on a team together, right guys?”I ask as we read the story. I point out the goals that they are all working toward, then repeat that mantra in every day life.
Don’t fight over opening the door, because we are all working on the same goal of going somewhere together. Don’t argue over who is sitting in which chair because we all want to eat together. Don’t worry about whose idea is better, because we have time to play both games, and we all want to have fun together.
Did you notice the word mentioned over and over again? Together. That is what being a family is all about, and I try to point that out at every opportunity.
We care for each other
Even when their little brothers were just newborns, we started talking about how important it was to take care of each other. Books like Love The Baby by Steven L. Layne, and Big Panda, Little Panda by Joan Stimson help reinforce this concept. I make sure to find ways they can help each other, and go overboard to praise them when I see them doing it on their own.
One major source of competition between siblings is feeling like everyone else is getting all the attention. To counteract this, I also let them know that their dad and I are always there for them and they will be taken care of too. We enjoy books like I Love My Mommy Because… by Laurel Porter-Gaylord, Daddy Kisses by Anne Gutman, or I Love You More Than Rainbows by Susan Crites, that remind them how much they are loved.
We protect each other
There are lots of lovely wonderful, fun, and beautiful things in the world to enjoy. But there are also bullies, strangers, and dangers to face too, and these are always easier to face together.
One book we loved was Two of a Kind by Jacqui Robbins. This book was actually about two friends at school who were being picked on, but I was able to point out how my older two boys are like those friends. Other kids might pick on them, but they would always have each other and should always stick up for each other.
Whether it is about how animals help each other like the father goose does in the book Honk, Goose, Honk by April Pulley Sayre, or books about safety, there are lots of opportunities to talk about how we can help keep each other safe.
Things are more fun with two (or more) than one
Siblings so often do not appreciate the benefits of having someone always there. My husband’s grandmother was an only child, and while she was alive repeatedly told us that her one piece of advice about child-rearing was to have more than one! She had been so lonely, and was happy to see her great-grandsons playing together.
Encourage your children to think of all the ways they can play together. Donalisa Hensley does a great job of this in the book, The Day No One Played Together as the two sisters learn all about compromise. But books that might be more traditionally thought of as books about friendship such as Squish Rabbit by Katherine Battersby or the hilarious Toot, Toot, Zoom by Phyllis Root communicate the same message.
Family is important
Media, unfortunately, does not always support the message that family is important. Instead, the message comes across loud and clear that everyone needs to be their own person. And while self-esteem and individuality are wonderful things that should be encouraged, taken too far in the wrong direction everyone forgets how to love each other.
Thankfully, you don’t have to sacrifice one for the other. My Family Plays Music by Judy Cox is a wonderful book about a family who are all musicians, but each with their own style and sound. Erandi’s Braids brings tears to my eyes every time, as mother and daughter are both willing to give of themselves for the other, and both end up better off in the end. I Doko by Sam Young and Sam the Zamboni Man by James Stevenson beautifully depict the importance of grandparents in the family and all the wisdom they have to share.
Peace in the home is possible
Some days, your kids will still fight. There are no books (picture books or parenting books) that can change that. We are all human after all. But it is amazing how sometimes a perspective change can make ALL the difference.
As I read these books with my children, not only do I see little changes in them, I see big changes in me. Through the stories, I learn to be a little sweeter and gentler too. The fact that this time is oh, so short, becomes more real. And as we read and snuggle, I remember to give them an extra kiss an hug, and enjoy life now – even when they are stealing each other’s trains (again).
About the Author: Rivka is a mom to three competitive and loving little boys all under the age of 5. They love reading books together and finding fun ways to do more with what they read through games and activities, which she then writes all about for other moms to use too. You can visit her at BeautifulBooksforChildren.com
Disclaimer: The post contains affiliate links and should you buy any of these books that Rivka mentions, I will make a little money from each sale. But I know for a fact, that when Rivka recommends a book, she really means it. So, you’ll love having all these books in your toddler’s library.
Photo Credit: Mike Babcock