The boys are in the back of the car, giggling, playing and bantering. Outside the world is waging war, lightening sparks across the sky, the rain is coming down in torrents. The boys in the back are doing “rough and tumble”. Boys will be boys. They like to be physical, touching, slapping, laughing. Before I know it, it’s not play fighting, it’s physical shouting hitting and hurting.
Parenting is full of highs and lows. It's fantastic watching siblings get along, watching your children play happily together, watching them laughing and having fun together. On the other hand, there is nothing more frustrating than when siblings bicker, fight and squabble. We need to teach our children how to get along and how to control their behaviour. For parents it can be very frustrating. It’s so easy just to join in the shouting.
1. Give them some alone time.
I know that this might sound rather contrary to instinct, after all, the aim is to get them to play together. But it's important for siblings to have some time alone and to get their parents to themselves. If they constantly feel like they're vying for attention, play time becomes a competition and that's when the fighting starts. My second son loves playing trains or cars either by himself or with a parent. If his older sibling joins in, he tends to take over and then the younger one gets upset. We often make time for him to play by himself or with one of us whilst the others are doing something different.
2. Play games together as a family.
This obviously depends on the ages of your children, and their age differences. So make sure you can find a game where everyone can participate (young babies can 'kick' footballs whilst being held by an adult.) You might like to divide into teams, sometimes adults against children, or one adult each team.
Our current favourites is 'sardines''. It's a bit like hide and seek but one person has to hide and everyone else has to look for them. When they find them, they hide too until you have everyone but one person hiding squashing into a small space...like sardines.
3. Leave them to it.
Well, within reason! Children have to learn how to sort things out and often we parents step in the minute we hear a cry or a scream. But sometimes, this is just how kids express themselves. My baby twins often cry when the other one takes something off them, but it doesn't last long. Sometimes letting them sort it out their way is a good idea (if they're hurting each other, it's not a good idea.)
And Dante is always complaining about Galen. "Galen what?" I ask. "Galen's singing".
4. Get them to help each other.
When my twins were born I was worried that the two older boys wouldn't bond with them. When they could just about sit up I used to get my second son to have a bath with them so he could hold their hands and stop them falling over. In reality, they were fine by themselves but giving Dante some responsibility towards them made him feel big and grown up. Now I get my oldest to 'read' stories to the younger children.
5. Set rules
I know rules are rather like school but they do make life easier. If everyone is singing from the same song sheet, everyone knows what is acceptable behaviour and what isn't. In our house we have the rule that you're not allowed to snatch things from other people's hands. It doesn't matter who had it first, or who it belongs to, snatching isn't tolerated.
We also have the rule that Galen goes in the back of the car on the way there and on the way back it's Dante's turn. There used to be no end or arguing over whose turn it was to sit where in the car. Then we invented what seems like a rather arbitrary rule and the fighting has stopped. Even if the complaining hasn't. At least everyone knows what the answer will be and there is no debating or compromising.
Remember to be realistic too. Young children are young children. They aren't going to get on perfectly the whole time and they always want what another child has got.