All the questions and answers come directly from Smart Love Solutions in Early Childhood-A Handbook for Parents, Teachers and Caregivers by Drs. Martha Heineman Pieper and William J. Pieper.
Q: Constant sibling bickering requires individual attention
I have two boys, ages three and two. I know you do not advise having children so close together, but the second son was not planned. All they seem to do is fight. They want the same toys and all my attention. The younger one usually gets the worst of it, although he retaliates by ruining a building project or taking his brother’s favorite stuffed animal. I send them to their rooms, give them time-outs and more often than I would like I end up screaming at both of them. I am absolutely at my wit’s end. What do you suggest?
A: Usually, when siblings are fighting this persistently each believes that he is not getting enough parental attention and affection. If there is another parent, divide up and spend time with each of the boys and let them experience some undivided attention and caring. Of course, if you are a single parent, then there is only one of you and satisfying the needs of two young children at the same time can be very difficult. But, you can take advantage of times when one of the boys is sleeping, at preschool or at a friend’s house. Resist the temptation to use that time to get chores done and instead use it to give the other boy some time with just the two of you. Filling each of the boys with love and affection is the most effective way to get them to stop fighting.
In the meantime there are some strategies that might minimize the mayhem. For now buy toys in duplicate to cut down on the squabbling. When fighting starts rather than screaming or giving time-outs, try keeping first one and then the other boy by your side. Find them something to do or enlist them in your activity if possible. They can help vacuum, dust or do other chores.
Cooperative activities that require both boys to “pull together,” such as cooking where one pours and one stirs can also cut down on friction. If you stick with this approach and add your own creative tactics, you will increasingly find that the boys are getting along better and perhaps even becoming good friends.