Tuesday, February 26, 2008

This Phase of Ours.

Something I'm learning in my season of motherhood: Co-Play.

My SIL, Amber enlightened my vision for the lack of sibling rivalry I desire in our kids. Really desire. She was sharing how at a recent teachers convention someone was explaining CO-PLAY. This is where child A. (exhibit Andrew) is playing contently by himself and child B. (exhibit Jack) comes up (in his case, toddles up) to child A. and starts to interact. This usually takes the form of Jack assuming the role of Godzilla to only knock down Drew's meticulous Lego tower built with tender care. Thus, you can imagine, resulting in a very frustrated child A. and a fleeing child B. ie, Godzilla. So that is the typical scenario. To try to keep the peace and avoid frustration, I quickly realized I was just refereeing and sending the two "boxers" back to their own corners to quietly play by themselves. This is where the enlightenment came into play. I knew that this solved the issue quickly, but I also knew that this is not the way to teach them to interact. Can you imagine this happening in 10 years. They butt heads, mom interceeds and sends them to their room. Nothing accomplished, nothing gained and probably still 2 unhappy teens. No good. That says to me, "we're bandaging the bleeding wound but not dealing with the issue here!" (forgive me, it's the counseling major coming out). SO...my quest begins.

From the beginning I have told Drew that God sent him a best friend in Jack! I thought that if I said it enough and sincerely enough he would eventually believe me and it would happen. Well, it is really true and I (we) really desire our boys to be best friends. But saying it just isn't enough. So I'm on a quest of learning how to help them along this path. It has been a little interesting at times to keep Drew convinced of this. Drew is, well, very sanguine. He loves people and always wants someone to play with him. This was great for the first couple years of his life when he had mommy and daddy to his complete self. But he is also very particular. And that's where Jack comes in. Now, he did really well with the whole transition thing becoming a big brother. He never said, "When does he go back to the hospital" or "Let's flush him down the potty" (like his aunty amber said of his daddy when daddy was a baby). So I was feeling pretty good about this brotherhood we were trying to develop between the boys. But the first year was challenging. Of course, with a baby, there are needs. And lots of them. Obviously they are completely dependent. And the older 2 and a half year old could wait or play quietly until baby Jack was finished eating. And I often found myself putting Drew on hold. Thankfully, my friend, Leah, gave me a great piece of advice when we were both pregnant with our 2nd and discussing the upcoming change of world our older child was about to experience. An older and wiser woman/mother shared with her this: "Be aware of your older child's feelings. Don't always push him/her aside for the crying baby. The baby can wait a minute while you help your older child with what he/she is in need of. The older child is the one who is aware that Mommy's attention is always on that thing called the baby and will feel the fall out of being continually put on hold." (paraphrase completely mine. I was pregnant at the time and still have trouble remembering where I last set the digital camera down.) This helped keep my perspective. Drew did learn that life was not all about him. But that comes naturally and he didn't need a frustrated mommy to make him feel any worst about it.

I remember the torn feelings I had for Drew and Jack. When in the hospital after having Jack, Drew came in with his grandparents to visit. I just wanted to take him in my arms and protect him from his little world that was turning upside down. I was watching it happen and there was nothing I could do to stop it from happening. But it was one of those mommy moments where I had to let go and let it happen and just be there for him to help guide him through. (hmmm, it sounds like he's going off to college here!) And then I looked down at Jack and a different wave of emotions hit me. I felt so sorry for him that I couldn't give him that 100% time and focus that I could with Drew. It was really interesting, looking back. You know, now that I'm typing this, I see it was really ME who was going through the greatest difficulty in adjusting!!! The boys, well they did just fine! Drew was able to spend a whole week at his grandparents house (during the days) and I was able to get that alone time with Jack that first week. That was good for my heart.

So, here I am in a new phase of motherhood.

Now that Jack is walking & exploring, it is a whole new ballgame. I'm learning how to have Drew teach Jack an aspect of what he is playing with so he won't just barge in and ruin everything. And it's amazing at how much Jack is picking up and learning. And they are doing very well together. Mostly.

I'm in the midst of exploring and learning more how to continue this development. I'd also love ANY & ALL of your input whether it's something you experienced growing up or what things you're glad your parents did with you & your siblings or things you've heard and read more recenlty or are currently doing.

And so I'll leave you with a wonderful Co-Play moment. Yesterday during a hectic and busy laundry, cleaning and organizing day, we took a little break to focus on the kids. This was Drew's idea and it ended up being so fun to watch the boys interact.

Cherish those little moments that pop up unexpectedly along the way!

Happy Kids = Happy Mom!!!



Katie Barker said...

Good thoughts on the co-play. It really does make sense about learning to work together instead of just tromping off to your corners (might apply to strife/conflict in marriages too!)

Crystal Neiner said...

Hey Erin! Cody and I enjoyed Jack's video. I actually went to the link and watched it. Cody got soo excited!! Love ya, Crystal Lynn

Karen said...

What a sweet video of your boys! Jack has beautiful eyes!

I got misty as I read about your emotions and desires for your boys. My baby girl will be getting a sister soon, and I'm apprehensive about that new dynamic. Thanks for sharing!

The Stamper Story said...

I started to comment and it got to be so long that I just cut it and am working on my own post in response- or agreement! Check it out- it might take me all day in between dealing with kid issues! :)

Leah (Parrish) Millan said...

Erin! I am going through the same thing! Thanks for your post. It was assuring to me that co-play isn't just a home and family fantasy I have tucked away in my heart.

Olivia and AJ are both on synchronized nap schedules... so there doesn't seem to be a "no conflict" time in my day anymore. A few weeks ago, AJ was messing with some of Olivia's stickers on the fridge, and she approached him and said in a direct but non-paniced tone "AJ, please don't touch my stickers". It sounded soooo much better than "NOOOOOOOO!!! MOMMY!!!!! HEEEEEE'S TOUCHING MY STICKERRRRRRRRRS!!! AAAAAAAAAAAA!" I think that she learned this "Please don't" line in her Sunday school class (the teachers are so great!) as an alternative to screaming and panic. It was so nice, I have since then made it a goal to "coach" Olivia through little brother confrontations.

One thing I've been doing lately is actually playing with them for a considerable amount of time. My goal in doing this is to model before Olivia how to include AJ... and to show her how AJ can be fun to play with :) No specific examples come to mind-- the good and the bad all sort of mesh together in my brain at this point of the day. After about 3 days of playing with them like this, I can already see how they are playing together more.

One more note... co-play is a step beyond conflict control. To use the stickers as an example... as nice as it was to hear Olivia tactfully ask her brother to back off ;) ... the better goal is for her to include him by maybe asking her to tell him about her stickers... am I getting the point?

Love you Erin!!!

Janelle said...

WOW, what an AWESOME post!!!! I'm glad I took the extra minute or two to read it through! Thank you so very much for shedding light on this subject as I'll be experiencing this VERY soon! I'm looking forward to see everyone else's input as well. I was the baby of our family and my brother and I fought at times, but we ended up being best of friends later and played and did things together a lot. Granted, each other is all we had so we had to play together. I'm not sure what my Mom did to get us to play together or be such good buddies, but if I remember right, it's kind of how Leah is doing it with her two - playing with them together and then they will learn to play together voluntarilly. Thank you again for the great thoughts!

Erin Neiner said...

Thank you guys for your comments. I'm going to leave this up for a bit so comment away!!!

Katie: you made a really good point about marriage and I am often reminded about how we are training the boys right now is how they will be responding as a husband and father. (Lord willing)

Leah: thank you for your wonderful thoughts. I know we are pretty much in the same boat with 2 kids close to the same ages. I love your little example of the stickers. That is just perfect! And due to the winter and being totally cooped up in the house I have also been playing a lot with the boys. The action happens in the middle of the floor...so that's where mom is needed the most!! Since I have been doing more of this I have seen such a difference and can intercede quickly and turn things around. Thanks for all your thoughts. You made some excellent points!!!

Janelle & Karen (& Steph): I also had you preggo with #2 mommas in mind for this. I remember well all the "fear" and wonderment of how this next baby was going to turn our world upside down. It's funny though. I think kids probably adjust better than we do! :)

Esther said...

My girls (5 & 3 now) have always shared a room - we didn't have much choice when #2 was born b/c we had a two bedroom home. But we moved and had three bedroom a few months after #2 was born. We purposely put them in the same room - we want them to be very aware of sharing. Nothing we have is really our own - and this is a subtle message we want to plant early on. Also, we have two phrases we use a lot - "Go take care of it," and "Figure out a solution." I like to encourage working things out with each other. There are two extremes - the parent who interjects at the littlest issue and the parent who lets them figure it out however long it takes and by whatever means it takes. I would like to think I'm in the middle - that's my goal anyway. This may not have to do exactly with the co-play thing but it falls in the same category, and it was what came to mind as I read your post. ;)

Diana said...

Hey Erin!!I really enjoyed the responses. Thanks for the ideas!!

I found that sharing a room helps them become better friends. After we put them to bed at night I can hear them whispering and giggling. Occasionally one will get scared from the shadows that the night light makes and I have heard the other saying things like..."God is with you"..."Don't be afraid...I'm here to and I won't let the monster get you." We had them in separate bedrooms for awhile and they begged us to put them back together. I also noticed that they weren't as close when they were apart.

We also do not allow them to tattle on each other. They have to ask the person nicely and kindly to please stop and if it doesn't stop after asking twice(which occasionally happens)they can come tell us. We try to teach them to solve the conflict not by disciplining the one that won't stop but by giving suggestions to the one that wanted the "action" to stop.

I like the game Crocodile Dentist. It teaches kids to take turns and even younger children can play it. Go Fish is another great game and now they make cards with pictures instead of words. With the games made for Alin(5 years old) that Caleb (3 years old) can't play, I help him out.

At times it is difficult having kids close in age. The thought that they have a playmate and a best friend for life is what makes things easier for me.

The Heller Family said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kristen said...

Erin - so glad you posted about this - and "invited" via FB! :) We're in the midst of this too, with two 4 yr olds and a 2 1/2 yr old. I am amazed at how the dynamic changes from day to day - it's usually "two against one" but not the same two and not the same one! I too alternate between making them work together, and accepting that there will be times they won't want to play together.

I totally agree with sharing the room. We had to put them together when (our) Erin was about 8 months old, and I really think it made the twins accept her more. It was nice when we were visiting my parents recently and they were in different rooms to hear them ask for her to sleep with them.

Something else that comes to mind as I read your post is that generally children as young as Jack do parallel play rather than co-play. Not that he can't do it - they just usually don't. That being said, however, I have noticed that co-play does seem to come faster to the younger sibling, probably because of the presence of the older one(s).

I am re-reading a book by Kevin Lehman (add typical disclaimer here) called "Making your Children Mind Without Losing Yours." I remember that he had some good points on "not refereeing" Don't laugh, but I can't remember what they are - that's why I'm rereading the book! Right now it's in a box, but when I find it again, I'll let you know what they were! :)

Sorry for the ramble - I look forward to hearing other suggestions!

Jamie said...

I enjoyed your post a lot . I am at that phase of life as well. Trying to get a strong-willed five year old, who is very good at at manipulating his three year old, strong-willed sister's will is interesting and very complex. There are days when they play beautifully, and I pat myself on the back; and then there are those days when I say, "Honey, they must take after you." I did go to a ladies conference this weekend and heard several good tips. One lady was speaking on instilling servanthood in your children. She mentioned an idea called "cheer breaks." It was just about encouraging your children to do something to make their sibling's life easier or happier. She gave the example of surprising your brother or sister with making their bed (my five year old little guy is actually really sweet about doing this for his sister). The idea of teaching them to serve one another was so practical. I think it will help if I can figure out how to make them happy with the fact that serving others makes God happy. Anyway, I don't know how you practically teach a two year old how to make the day better for their sibling, but I am sure there are lots of creative things people could come up with. I was also strongly reminded that they are watching us, so I thought what Leah said about playing with the kids and showing them how to play together was awesome. I tend to forget this part. It is so hard when you put two little sinners togther. Sometimes, when days are particularly complicated, I remind myself that when God graciously brings them to a knowledge of Himself, being kind and merciful and putting one another first will be a whole lot easier to exlplain.

Ben and Carissa said...

I really enjoyed reading on this subject. Now, when the boys are in a mangled heap on the floor screaming, I won't feel completely alone. My boys have, over the last few months, started really playing together, but with it has come so much fighting. I have found that if I make a big deal out of Ethan being the "big brother" and explain and show him how much he can help and teach Luke, he can really keep things peaceful. Ethan likes knowing he is an important brother, and will try extra hard when I remind him of this. They know exactly which buttons to push in each other, and when I can tell that they are intentially trying to make the other unhappy, I just stick them on opposite sides of the couch with a few books and give them quiet time. It is not long before they are snickering at each other and giggling. Then, we talk about loving each other and being kind real quick, and they are off playing happily again (for a few minutes at least!). I have to agree that when they are quietly playing or reading all by themselves, it is sooo peaceful, but,co-play is indeed necessary for them to learn how to deal with people and situations in a way that Jesus would. This is where I, as mommy, has to STOP and let whatever I happen to be working on go (sooooooo hard for me) and TEACH. I am the mommy after all. I know I'm getting on kind of a rabbit trail here, but why do I feel that if my house and laundry are not caught up all the time and there is no freshly baked cookies on the counter I am slacking? Should I not be more concerned with teaching and discipling my children to love and be like Jesus? I feel this pull sooo often! I loved Leah's comment on playing with them. Who better to be right there when a "conflict" arises and mommy is right there to "guide" them through the proper responses. Ok - I think I am done! Thanks for the invite. I love being inspired to be a better mommy!

Oh yes, the sign language videos- (we've had some computer issues this month and I've been "off-line" for a few weeks, so I am getting caught up - sorry). They are called "Signing Time" - www.signingtime.com. There are MULTIPLE videos, all about 30 minutes long and they are so wonderful! My dad is deaf, so my parents started us on the videos so the kids can sign to grandpa. They LOVE to watch them and they are really cute! Start your collection!

Sara said...

Thanks Erin!! NO experiences to share(as my one and only peanut is a wee 8 months old:), but I have thoroughly enjoyed this practical advice!! You and Leah (and Steph too) should organize a ladies conference! I sure would LOVE to attend something with the three of you teaching practical lessons on rearing children!!

Debbie Griffin said...

As a mom of 3, and 8-6-and 1 yr. old, I have to agree with all the things people have said but would like to add something really obvious...children are incredibly egocentric and sinful. Most teachers of preschoolers will tell that even at 3-4 years old, most children don't do well with this ALL the time...so I want to add to not get discouraged if your children are struggling...We have to be faithful to train them, but at the same time realize that most of your comments are coming from moms with really young children. I didn't see real, constant improvement in this area until Daniel was closer to 5. That was when I could tell that he really understood the concept and was able to consistently control his responses to his younger sister (or clearly choose to do wrong) I think we have to begin to train them in this area from early on, but don't become disheartened if you don't see great responses right away...most children at this age seem to have a double measure of sin nature and we as moms can do the best for them by being consistent...and consistently yelling at them doesn't count! :-)

Esther said...

Debbie - that's the best comment I've seen yet. Thanks for that reminder!

Erin Neiner said...

Well, I guess it's time for me to pipe in here! :) I have been eating up all your ideas, suggestions and experience and am so thankful that each of you that took the time to respond. THANK YOU!!! It has been neat to see the variety that comes with each comment as we each have our own unique mothering style and personality. But the thing that I love is that there are many common threads woven throughout. To recap:
1. We are sinners at our very core.
2. We must be active in our parenting.
3. Get in there and "get dirty" with your kids. Be involved with them at their level.
4. We are our children's greatest examples (especially when we are being like Christ).
5. Keep the most important task in mind: their heart.
8. BE PATIENT. (just checking if you were being patient!) :)
9. Encourage & Teach/Communicate what is expected. Don't just expect it.
10. Have your kids share a room.

And a favorite of mine, DON'T GET DISCOURAGED!!!! Thanks everyone for participating! Your comments poured in and I feel like it was a great "forum."

Till next time...

(and please feel free to keep commenting if your just now visiting!)

Noreen said...

I enjoyed the info on co-play and will give you some insight on how we handled and still handle things with our 2 boys(ages 13 and 9). You are absolutely correct in saying that we moms tend to referee and maybe a little too much! I have received much wisdom from other seasoned moms and have used their techniques along with the Bible to help us through the rivalry times. I have to say that Trevor and Zach get along very well together, they are very close. They did share a room up until a couple of months ago and I truly think that made them close. Along with not having many outside friends, so to speak. We always made sure that they had to share their things with one another even if they didn't want to. we have recently enforced that all of their possessions are God's and that they need to be good stewards of them. One time when they were younger they were not getting along, so, I creatively made a way for them to have to stay together for the whole day-no matter what--even when they had to use the bathroom!!! After a while it got silly and turned into a fun experience. Please be aware that you may not see all that goes on and we tend to side on the little one (especially when they get hurt)--make sure that if you don't know what went on-to pray about it because only God does. Sometimes you will just have to come up with some other system in handling these matters. Your eyes can't be everywhere at the same time. We can tend to blame the older child, but in some cases it's the younger one that instigates the situation when they are playing and years later you find out what REALLY happened. ie. yesterday I heard Zach scream, so, I ran out to see that Trevor had just thrown a snowball and hit Zach-Zach proceeded to give me a sob story that he just came out and got hit, well of course I blamed Trevor and then he told me that Zach threw the first snowball! Always make sure to ask both the children what happens and you can tell from there who is telling the truth or not. The younger ones want to be protected by mom and they will stretch the truth in order to make themselves feel good-no matter if it costs the other sibling consequences. They can be sneaky. We have also used the method if they can't play nicely together then they have to put the game or toy away. We have also instilled the process of thinking of others first. Or, they can play what one wants to and then after awhile what the other one wants. Hope this helps as I could write a bunch more--call me if you ever want to talk about these issues--our children are so precious and these years are the builing blocks of forming many different relationships that they will have when they are adults.