Sunday, 22 April 2012

How to deal with sibling rivalry

If you have more than one child, get your head round the fact now that they will demonstrate an unhealthy amount of sibling rivalry. As your small fry have a full blown fight in public, displaying aggression which would make a seasoned cage fighter glow with pride, you may find people giving you that sympathetic half smile (which really means 'I'm so glad they're not mine') and saying, "They'll be the best of friends when they're older..."

This statement is not true. IF they survive to adulthood without killing each other, and believe me the odds are not good, the best you can hope for is that they live far enough away from each other that they will occasionally don rose-tinted spectacles and remember their childhood semi fondly. Perhaps at Christmas. Or when someone dies. The glasses will be whisked off and jumped on, however, the moment they meet again.

Don't get me wrong, I know some siblings who are incredibly close, but for my brother and I that is a dream which will always be a piped one.

By the time my brother was born, I had been an only child for almost four years, and quite liked it really. The arrival of a screaming bundle of attention-stealing joy was not something I was totally on board with... My inner diva came roaring to the surface as I tried valiantly to manoeuver the spotlight firmly back on the star of the show. Me. Babies are cute if you are a grown up. To a four year old, a baby is just a slightly smaller and less perfect version of themselves, and why would you want one of those when you already have perfection?

A friend of mine was nanny to twins, who also had a six year old sibling. Four years as an only child is one thing, but to have six years to yourself and then be presented with two babies is too much. My friend went to use the bathroom when the twins were about five months old. When she came back the babies were poking out from behind the sofa. Their brother had tipped all his toys down the back of the sofa and was in the process of balancing his bike on the top. Luckily, six year olds don't have the best spacial awareness and babies are short, so no harm done.

I have drummed into my kids how lucky they are to have a brother/sister, but I'm not convinced they believe me. My dad's solution is this:
If you want to have siblings who are close, you have to play the odds. If you have two children, chances are they won't get along as there as no variation in sparring partners. Have six or seven and the odds are good that at least two of them will like each other, given the number of combinations available. It's simple maths really.

So, to summarise, if you want to produce a pair of siblings who get on, breed lots.
"Breed like the wind, Bullseye!" (Toy Story)
"I breed therefore I am." (Descartes)
"Baby we were born to breed!" (Springsteen)
I rest my case.

Today: Bobby plays to her strength
Bobby and Phyllis, fighting over the last remaining seat.
Phyllis (snaking behind Bobby and getting in first): "You snooze, you lose!"
Bobby (nonchalantly tipping her off said chair): "You're small, you fall."

Mama Jax

Sunday, 15 April 2012

How to assuage your children's fears

My three Peapods have all had different fears at different times of their lives. Just saying to a child, "Don't be silly, there's no such thing as monsters/ghosts etc," doesn't work. The fear is real to them, so the solution needs to be real too.

Bobby's fear was monsters. She slept with a plastic sword under her pillow to fight them until we found a better solution. Bobby's fears were imaginary, so we imagined 'friends' who would protect her while she slept. Bobby was a huge fan of Star Wars, so she created imaginary friends who were all Star Wars characters, tougher than any monster and therefore able to defend her. This worked well for a while, then it all started to get out of hand. Luke Skywalker began demanding dinners, Obi Wan wanted a seat next to Bobby on the bus, and Jar Jar Binks had a birthday practically every day. The last straw came when I had nowhere to sit: "Don't sit there, mum, Darth Maul is sitting there." Darth Maul was banished to the shed with the other characters. She was allowed to chose ONE to bring out every night.

Phyllis has a fear of monsters too, but for her it's the fear of being eaten.
Phyllis: "Mummy the monster's coming! What if he eats me?"
Me: "Why would the monster want to eat you? There's not a pick on you. If a monster DID manage to get in the house, he'd go for Daddy for sure. Daddy's fatter."
Phyllis is happy with this.

Peter's fear is much more real. Peter worries about being kidnapped. Now this is a possibility, and I have to say is one of my fears too. It is difficult to open a newspaper these days without being confronted with tales of cruelty to children. However, passing these fears on to my son is not helpful. My kids have been grilled what to do if approached by a stranger, and they know that secrets need to be told if they are making someone unhappy. I want them to feel confident not afraid, as fear makes them more vulnerable.

Now I am sure I have mentioned this before, but just to reiterate, Peter has autism. I call him my Little Weirdo. For those who think this is cruel, read 'Fried Green Tomatoes' and take note of why Issy calls Ruth's little boy Stump. Peter is proud of being different.
With that in mind, this is how the conversation went:
Peter: "Mum, what if someone comes along and kidnaps me?"
Me: "Well, that's possible, but don't worry Peter. You're such a little weirdo they'd soon bring you back."
Peter giggles. No more fear.

Today: My amazing Bobby
Last summer, Bobby and a friend were approached by a man in a car who asked them directions to the nearest field and offered them alcohol. Bobby directed him miles away, took a photo of his car number plate on her 'phone and went into a shop. When they came out, he started following them again. They went to the vicarage where the vicar let them use the 'phone to call me and the police.
Using the information Bobby gave them, the man was caught and imprisoned. He was on the top 10 most wanted paedophile list and had abused countless children. My blood ran cold to think what may have happened if Bobby hadn't been so sensible, calm and strong. I'm so proud of my daughter for fighting the real monster and winning. Well done Bobby! I love you xxxxx