Any parent who has more than one child will learn that one of the core obstacles facing them is how to teach your child to share. For us, it came as a bit of a shock once Daniel was born that our formerly sweet and giving young Dexter was suddenly fiercely protective of anything he perceived as “his.” This included food, toys and parents.
Jealousy can take a hold of a child just as easily as an adult. And when a new baby starts getting all the attention and “treats,” it can make an older child see green. Our first indication that Dexter was going to be problematic was when Daniel came home from the hospital. Now, I had breastfed Dexter for just under a year and a half, only stopping when I got pregnant again. So it had been a good eight months since then, and he had slipped seamlessly from breast to bottle to cup in that time with no issues at all. But as soon as he saw Daniel getting something that he wasn’t getting, he wanted it.
Since most of my midwife friends said it was a good idea, I went ahead and let Dexter have a go at breast feeding. He was about to turn two years old, and I didn’t see a problem. He latched on for a moment and had a quick suckle, but I could see that he was really not impressed. He tried another couple of times, but he satisfied himself that Daniel had the short end of the straw, and I think it made him feel better.
As time has gone on, though, the jealousy has gotten worse. Anything that Daniel has, Dexter wants. We are constantly saying, “No Dex, that is for Daniel. Leave him alone.” And then the waterworks start. It felt like we were always chastising Dexter, and I didn’t want him to think that he was being picked on. So I started chastising Daniel as well.
It started pretty easily. Daniel was about six months old and was grabbing for everything. If Dexter got nearby, he’d grab his leg or his shirt or whatever he might have had in his hands. Every time he did this, I would lean in and say, “No, Daniel! That is DEXTER’S shirt. You leave him alone.”
This made Dex extremely happy.
At times, Dex discards a toy that he doesn’t like because it’s too boring. Daniel will pick it up and start playing happily, and Dex will freak out. Suddenly it’s like he realizes that toy is the ONLY toy that will EVER bring him joy. So he grabs it out of Daniel’s hands. Of course, this will not do! So I take the toy from Dexter and give it back to Daniel, and I remind Dexter to share.
This inevitably brings on tears and tantrums. So I taught Dexter a sharing trick.
“Go and get another toy for Daniel. Bring it over and see if he wants it. If you find a toy he likes, you can trade.”
Dex will run off and get any random toy and bring it over, waving it in the baby’s face, not caring whether he actually wants it or not as long as he gives up the other toy. And it works. Daniel doesn’t care what he plays with. He just wants something to hold and slobber over. But Dexter suddenly feels like a champion negotiator, and I have happy kids for a little while.
For me, it’s really important to teach my kids equality.
Right now, we are going through a new phase, which is hilarious to watch, but is nevertheless a problem we are jumping on so that it doesn’t get worse. Daniel likes to “beat up” Dexter.
Somehow, Dexter inherently knows that he is bigger and stronger than his brother. So he takes great pains to ensure that he doesn’t grab him too roughly or hit him or do anything that will hurt him. But Daniel has no such qualms. Several times a day, I have to come running because Dexter is screaming bloody murder as Daniel sits astride him smacking his face and pulling his hair. He’s not hurting him, but it’s not acceptable.
Because he’s only eleven months old, it’s impossible to use logic with him. We have to just separate them and tell Daniel “no” very firmly.
I think now that Dexter is nearly three, he’s kind of got past his petty jealousies toward the baby. He’s more protective and loving toward him, keeping him safe and trying to teach him things. But Daniel is almost one, and he’s just getting started.
Should we be lucky enough to have another baby, I think it’s going to be a much bigger learning curve, as they will learn to team up two against one, and then it’s game on.
Until then, we work with the kids to teach them sharing and loving. And forgiveness when they can’t quite manage the other two.
If you want to read another take on sharing, check out The Audacity of Motherhood’s post: Sharing Sucks: or How Not to Teach Kids to Share.