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Good Sister Awards – Parenting Tip for Sibling Rivalry

If being mean spirited to your sister was an olympic sport then my girls would take the gold, silver and possibly the bronze. Expecting arguments and bickering, they aren’t immune to disagreements, but lately the hurtful things my children have been saying to each other, truthful or not, needs to be addressed and nullified. Yesterday, a Daddy Day, the teasing, squabbling and screaming eclipsed to the point where I wanted to say, “If you tell her three times to stop and she doesn’t stop then go ahead and hit her.” I’m not even sure what that specific issue was about, but I was not interested in solving every tiny argument between Olivia and Hailey, I was looking for a solution to the main problem which I might have solved or I may have made the problem worse, probably made it worse, you tell me.

The sibling rivalry between Olivia and Hailey is severe. Nothing Hailey does measures up to Olivia’s expectations. Hailey’s artwork is “worthless scribble scrabble.” Or, Hailey “doesn’t even know that.” Or “Hailey’s not even good at that.” Attempting to belittle Hailey’s accomplishments, Olivia feels more important and smarter about herself. I have tried to explain to her that this is a bad thing, “Making her feel bad doesn’t make you feel good.” It drives me crazy because among many things Hailey is quick minded and anticipates what is expected of her. And god forbid, if I ever try to praise Hailey for something, without Olivia whining, “What about me!? I am too!? or I did that too!? or I’m good too!?” And Olivia gets plenty of credit and praise when it is deserved. She just can’t stand to see Hailey succeed at anything.

Don’t get me wrong, it is not all Olivia, because Hailey can be just as mean to her sisters too, “I’m never going to play with you!” is her signature threat when she doesn’t get her way. Or storming off to her room to sulk when she doesn’t win or is losing at a game. Or screaming point blank in Elizabeth’s or Olivia’s face not to take her stuff. Or Hailey shaking her tooshie and teasing Olivia, to the tune of naner-naner boo-boo’s, “I have a play-date and you are a poopy-head.” Hailey’s raspberry song has been rattling around up there for a day or so.

Elizabeth is competing with her two older sisters too. For instance she jockey’s for a seat in Kim’s lap during story time throwing elbows to get the most comfortable spot. She complains at the dinner table feeling left out of conversations and tonight swiped the last pear slice from Olivia gloating as she gobbled it up. She can’t share or take turns with any of her six or seven prized baby dolls. But I guess this is all normal for a one year old.

After a busy daddy day morning of refereeing I had devised a rudimentary plan; use my princess’s competitive nature to enlighten them in good sisterhood skills. My bright idea: ‘Good Sister Awards’ and the timing could not have been better because as I was hashing out PB&Js for lunch Olivia noticed an Elmo cup at the top of her place setting. A simple mistake on my part really, because for the past year anything sesame street has been unacceptable, “that’s for babies” I should have known by the disdain for sesame street, except for when the show is actually playing, not to set the Elmo cup anywhere near Olivia and she whined and complained about the cup. I told her, “it is a cup with your water in it” she persisted and I replied, “you git what you git, and you don’t throw a fit.” Hailey joining chorus on the last part.

Olivia kept going on and on about the Elmo cup. I repeated “no” a half a dozen times, each “no” pushing me closer to going Alec Baldwin on her. I considered that for a split second before deciding to cave-in and offer her the opportunity to pick her own cup when suddenly Hailey volunteered to switch cups. The parenting gods had chosen this moment to merit the first “Good sister Award” right there on the spot to Hailey for her unselfishness and she was proud of herself. And what does Olivia do? She fusses, “What about me… I’m a good sister too?”

“Show me, don’t tell me.” I replied to Olivia which spurred her to break her string cheese precisely in half to share with Hailey. “That deserves a good sister award” I said finally pleasing her. During lunch we discussed how we were going to track the awards and came up with a plan to fill decorated plastic jars with ‘good sister award chips’. Then those chips could be cashed in for special prizes.

Good idea?  I’m not so sure yet myself, it may be a bit too competitive in nature, I’ll let you know how this one turns out.

The Chicken Dance

Among all the titles parenthood bares ‘referee’ suits me. More specifically a Hockey ref. I often find myself shouting, “Hey! (A loud ‘hey’ is my whistle), that’s two minutes for high sticking.” Or “Hey! Two minutes for roughing.” Or “Hey! Two minutes for instigating.” Hockey refs are physically and emotionally tough too. Sometimes I’ll take an elbow while breaking up a tousle or get popped with a flying ‘puck’ if I’m not quick enough to move out of the way. Just as a Hockey ref would, I attempt to let the ‘game’ unfold unimpeded, interrupting only when the balance between fair competition and unjust play needs to be defined and resolved. Determining that equivalence is a delicate and dynamic aspect of the job, inaction may bring jeers and boo’s from the ‘spectators’ and exacting unfair punishment may harbor resentment from the ‘players.’

This past week, while at our school districts’ learning center playroom, a mechanical dancing chicken that, of all things, plays the ‘chicken dance’ song sparked a ‘dance’ between Olivia and Hailey. Coincidently this is the same ditty that blares at some point during every NHL game in our town. The toy bird was at the epicenter of the brawl being stretched tug-of-war-like and spun as the girls used gravitational momentum to fling one another off the chicken. Fake feathers were flying everywhere all while its’ tune playing, “da da da da da da da… da da da da da da da… da da da da da da da…daa daa daa daa.” The result of this ugly battle involved screams, laughter, tears, hydrogen peroxide and a few band-aids. Although I think the chicken got the worst of it.

Instinctively, I wanted to jump in between them and stop the fray but when they started giggling and laughing it reminded me of myself when I play Hockey. I’ll be battling for the puck, in the corner, along the boards or in front of the net chuckling and hyperventilaughing the whole time. Some of my teammates find it obnoxious and irritating, they think I’m not competitive enough or serious enough. “It’s not like we’re playing for the Stanley Cup,” is my repartee. I like to play recreational Hockey for several reasons; one, because it’s fun, two, for exercise and three, to healthily alleviate stress.Both my girls have stress in their young lives. It’s true. Olivia is weighted by carrying heavy leadership responsibilities. Hailey lives in the giant shadow of an older sibling whom she must compete for everything with. Not to mention the pressures of daycare, dance lessons, swim lessons and two over baring parents. One reason they bicker and wrestle is to vent their stress.

First born, Olivia is the one who has to figure things out, toys, puzzles, games, rules of conduct and then must be a good role model and teacher to Hailey. Olivia cares about the affections and well being of people close to her, “are you happy daddy?” And when I come home from ‘playing with the other daddies,’ she meticulously scans my body for injuries, “do you get any boo-boo’s daddy?”

Being the second child Hailey has scrapped for everything since conception and has dealt with; a womb that had just been vacated, stained bottles, collapsed nipples, frayed clothes that hadn’t even been stored, worn toys with failing batteries, soggy edged books, half-soled shoes, even her teachers at preschool are hand-me downs. She is a competitor, “watch dis (this) daddy!” Probably doesn’t help when Kim and I say things like, “first one inside the car wins!”

Back to the crazy dancing chicken: Looking-on, I realized they weren’t fighting over the toy; this is something they always do. They argue and grapple over everything and nothing. It could be an object or a word or an idea, it doesn’t mater. Digging deeper I couldn’t help but think maybe they constantly fight to gain Kim’s and my attention. This is probably true but there seems to be something more involved going on between them and I never saw it until ‘the chicken dance,’ Olivia and Hailey fight because they trust one another with their emotions and feelings; letting it all out, battling, arguing, laughing and crying in the same instant without trepidation, assurance that they truly love each other.

Originally posted on BabyCenter.com 11/02/06


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