Dr Richard C. Woolfson
The typical six-year-old loves his younger sibling – but he probably doesn’t want to play with her for more than a few moments at a time. He’d rather play alone with his own toys or with his own friends than have to keep his two-year-old sister amused.
In contrast, she’d love to spend every second playing with her big brother; she adores his company. No wonder, then, that you have to deal with the regular complaints that his sister irritates him, that she follows him everywhere he goes, constantly touches his toys and regularly interrupts his play.
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The key to your children playing happily together is ensuring that they each have their personal space. Your six-year-old won’t be so agitated by his younger sister’s appearance at his side during play if he knows that he has his own area that is sibling-free. He needs to have a place where he knows he can leave his toys, games and other possessions without fear of them being touched, moved or taken away without his permission by the younger child. Without such reassurance, he won’t want to play with her at all.
In the same way, he needs to respect her right to privacy as well. Although she’s only a toddler, she still likes to find her toys undisturbed where she last left them. While this isn’t as important right now to your toddler as it is to your older child, it will gain increasing importance over time. It makes sense, therefore, to establish boundaries now.
Explain one’s right to privacy and discourage each from taking the other’s possessions without first asking. Expect to repeat this line of reasoning many times in subsequent weeks and months, especially to your two-year-old.
Setting rules about how they should behave when friends visit will also help. For example, your six-year-old won’t be happy to find his young sister tagging along every time his pals call in the afternoon. Tell your youngest that she mustn’t annoy her brother when his pals are with him, and keep a close watch on her. If the urge to be with him is so strong that she forgets the rules, be ready to intervene before they clash.
On the positive side, make a point of organising times when they can play together – these episodes are more likely to be successful if you are also involved. For example, they could play with construction blocks or perhaps paint together.
A short activity a few minutes each day helps them get to know each other better. Through supervised and planned experiences like these, they’ll gradually learn how to share, take turns and play together without high levels of tension.
When arguments about playing together do break out – as they inevitably do, no matter how hard you try to avoid them – help your children sort out their disagreement as quickly as possible. Let each of them have his say. Remind them that there is never an excuse for hitting each other, and then suggest ways in which they can start playing together again without bickering.