My five-year-old and three-year-old squabble over most things from the amount of applesauce they each have, to most toys and how much attention they get. I’m frustrated and really don’t know what to do. I feel like I play referee all day.
First, relax. This is normal. Second, try and stay out of their disagreements. Unless someone might be injured, keep quiet and let the children figure it out. Even though they are different ages, they will learn how to balance their wants, needs, arguments, and conflicts. I remember my mother ignoring my sister and me while we fought. I recall we were nearly teenagers and suddenly we looked at each other and couldn’t remember what we were arguing about. That was one of the last times we argued for an extended period of time. We learned right then that most things aren’t worth fighting over.
One of the ways to curtail rivalry before it begins is to celebrate each child’s individual strengths. Take each child out separately on the weekend and have a special activity that he or she enjoys or appreciates. It may seem counterintuitive, but one-on-one time with your child is healthier than the much praised “family time.” Turn a shopping trip with your oldest into a learning adventure, where he helps you follow a map of items you need. Or he can try and add up the cost of your order, or just find all of the letter As in the store. Whatever the age, even basic errands can be fun when just one child gets all of mom or dad’s attention.
Another quick tip that seems easy enough but can be very hard to do: Stop comparing your children. Just this morning I heard someone say, “When your sister did this activity, she…” That child needs to find his own way of doing things and he needs to know he’s not competing with his sibling for mom’s love or attention. It’s an easy trap to fall into, when we compare kids’ heights or eating habits, but too often they end up hearing, “She did it better.”
Kelly LaChance-Guertin BA, CCE, CD (DONA), CLC, has been a birth and postpartum doula for the past five years. She is currently a certified birth doula through DONA (Doulas of North America) and a certified childbirth educator. As the co-owner of Bellani Maternity and the mother of two, she experiences first-hand the struggle of balancing work and family, as well as the realities of raising children. Visit to learn more about Kelly’s one-stop resource for pregnancy and parenting.