This post is for the July Teach/Learn carnival, Collaboration. Join us.
The girls are probably average to good when it comes to sibling rivalry. At least I hope they are. There haven’t been any actual injuries and roughly half the time they adore each other, a quarter of the time they are apart, and the other quarter consists of lots of crying, yelling and ‘NO!’
And like 83% of statistics used in conversation, those are made up. I really have absolutely no idea what the times are, but you get the idea – they don’t bash each other but they don’t always see eye to eye. Which is normal and expectable, they are after all little kids, but part of our job as parents is somehow to help our kids learn social rules. I can’t remember the last time I saw an adult stomp their feet and yell because someone took their toy.
As an adult there may be a few professions out there where you can work completely independently, but they seem to be becoming rarer. In my own area of education you used to be able to shut your classroom door and that was it, but today you have aides, team-teaching, collaborative planning teams and thriving online communities. Science doesn’t happen without collaboration – there is a reason that both Darwin and Einstein‘s letters are valuable, and scientific papers always have multiple authors.
So what are some ways to get kids to work together?
Before you get too gung-ho, be aware of what is reasonable.
- Up until at least 2, it’s all about me. Babies and toddlers don’t really interact before then and immediate retaliation is normal, it doesn’t mean they are a bully-to-be.
- Between 2 and 3 children begin to parallel play, where they play beside each other but don’t try to influence each other. They may observe and modify their own play but they are not playing together.
- After parallel play, simple social play develops. This is when children start to learn to share and play together.
- Their skills develop further until they can engage in cooperative play, starting around 3 or 4. This is planned, playing with the same goals and includes simple role-playing games such as Mummies or Shops.
As they get older they retain the earlier ways of playing but add more complex ones – being able to work together is a very complex skill. And like other complex skills it doesn’t suddenly appear full-blown one day, there are lots of little steps that lead up to it and ways you can encourage your kids to practice them short of locking them in a room and not letting them out until they play nicely.
- Pick your activity – There are some activities that definitely lend themselves to playing together, such as music or balls. If we put music on, the girls start dancing. And once they start dancing it’s almost inevitable that they will either swing around together or dress each other up. The same with balls, it’s usually only a few minutes before they are rolling or bouncing the balls back and forth.
- Jobs – This works particularly well with kids of different ages, like siblings. Break the project into different jobs and each child has their own one, but all are contributing to the finished product. Younger children can take on a simpler job but still be involved, you can even end up with a little production line happening.
- Teaching – This is an extension of the idea of jobs, but older kids can teach younger siblings how to do something they have already mastered. This is actually one of our most successful fight preventers, so many of them start because ‘she’s ruining it!’ ‘Well why don’t you show her how to do it properly?’
- Timers – So important to family harmony in so many ways. They take the decisions out of a poor subjective human’s hands and objectively count the seconds. We’ve used lots of different timers in the last few years including a genuine hourglass egg-timer, baking timers and stop-watches. Currently I use an iPhone app called Time Timer which has a great visual timer that little kids can understand. And you can combine timers with jobs – you push the swing for 3 minutes then swap.
- Being the audience – The constant refrain of toddlerdom is ‘Look at me Mummy!’ While you’re watching, you can invite siblings to watch and be included too. With a little luck and a few heavy handed suggestions this can lead to interactions and joining in, although enthusiastic older siblings need to be gently encouraged not to take over.
- Together yet apart – There are lots of games that are played together, yet the children are actually apart. Games like hide and seek or treasure hunts, especially if older siblings are sensitive enough to allow for the little one’s abilities.
- Shared experiences – Kids role play their experiences constantly. That’s what playing house, cooking, shops and talking on phones is all about – practising the things they see around them. That can hit a roadblock with pre-schoolers if one child has just done something new and exciting and no-one else knows what they are supposed to do or is interested. A great way to re-energise their imaginative, collaborative play is with an interesting shared experience like a trip to feed ducks or even a new book at the beginning of a playdate.
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