Sunday, August 3, 2008

Don't worry, Mom. We're just battering each other!

OK, this is insane. All they do is fight. Fight, fight, fight.

"OK, boys, that's enough. Let's take a break from each other."

"NOOOOO! I can't LIVE without my BROTHER!!!!!! He's like half of my SOULLLLLLL!!!!!"

Five minute hugfest ensues. "Fine. But play together nicely."

Hugfest degenerates into wrestling. Wrestling degenerates into screaming.


"Don't worry, Mom. We're just trying to batter each other!"

Jabberwock offers this sincerely, as though it is the most reasonable thing in the world to say to your mother. When did he learn the word battering, anyway? And should I be worried?

I finally got around to the end of Playful Parenting. Yeah, this is the part about siblings. "Play Your Way Through Sibling Rivalry" is the title of the chapter, and my lip turns up in a sneer. I admit, a quivering mess of a sneer.

So he starts the chapter by going back to his empty cup metaphor, which I like and can totally see the reasoning behind. Both kiddos are running around trying to get their "cup" filled--with affection, love, attention, connection. And if they can't get some from me, they try to steal some out of their brother's cup. Sure. Yeah.

Cohen gives a list of possible things that parents can do when siblings are at each other's't getting along. He says that we may do one or two of these things, but we need to try out the others. So I thought I'd go through these choices and write about whether I've done them and what I think.

"Offer a solution." Here he talks about how a parent can offer ways to make the conflict go away: go outside, take a break from each other, invite friends over, wrestle, have a snack. He says that we can't always be offering solutions, though, because children need to find their own, too. He also says that our solutions often aren't all that creative ("split it...take turns...say you're sorry"), but I'm not sure what other solutions I'm supposed to offer. Personally, I usually can't do things like drop everything and go outside to play. For one thing, like this morning, I was trying to sweep and mop the floors. Sure, I realize they probably were trying to get my attention because I was sweeping instead of playing with them, but hello? My feet are sticking to the floor. Or, I could involve them in the cleaning, but I can't figure out how to involve a four-year-old and a one-year-old in sweeping and mopping and still actually get something cleaned.

"Give encouragement and inspire their confidence" This advice makes sense because he goes into why parents can't just tell their kids "work it out" and then leave. But it's so difficult to work this into the one-year-old realm, you know? Saying things like, "I'm sure you guys can work this out, so what are your ideas about how you can keep playing with this toy without ripping each other's arms off?" works for Jabber. If sufficiently encouraged, I'm sure he could come up with a really nice way to take turns and share and play nicely. But then Monkey will just do whatever the hell he wants anyway. Because he can.

In this section, Cohen also talks about forced apologies, and how it's better to say something like, "Monkey seems really hurt by that. What can you do to make it right?" Again, this may work when they're older, but right now I'm not so sure. It always seems like a one way street, and I don't want to perpetuate the "You're older and should know better" kind of thing, either.

Next advice: "Flood children with love and affection": Sure, sometimes they're fighting because they really want more of me or Dad; this may have been the case as I was sweeping today. So, okay, I stop doing everything I need to do and have story time, play time, take them outside at the drop of a hat, do everything to keep them feeling like they aren't lacking my attention. Now what? When does dinner get cooked? Sure, I know. I'm writing a novel and blogging and reading and soon enough correcting papers all while I could be paying them undivided attention. Not everything is necessary, I suppose. I just don't know if it will stop them from freaking out on each other when a toy is snatched, though.

"Protect": Okay, yes, I do this all the time. It's just not okay for Jabber to use his bigger body and strength to push around Monkey. I will step in any time I feel someone is getting hurt, and I can't imagine not doing so.

"Provide Perspective": This is kind of like being a thoughtful listener and then a narrator for their conflict. You listen to them, and then calmly restate each perspective. "Oh, sounds like you got upset because you weren't being included in the game, and it sounds like you two wanted to include her in the game but got mad when she was cheating. What can you do to make it work out?" God, I just feel like so much of this will be easier when Monkey is more verbal, more logical.

"Promote win-win outcomes" He urges parents to look beyond fairness and equality and instead try to find out what each sibling wants. My thing? What if they really do both want the same thing?

So a key problem we have is with, say, playing with blocks/Legos/Lincoln Logs. They both love playing with them. They want to play together, but of course Jabber is really into building intricate structures, carefully and lovingly making them exactly the way he wants them. Monkey is into ruthless destruction, and fast. Every time we take out such a toy, I begin by reminding Jabber that he's going to have to be flexible about this, about how he can rebuild things and that taking things apart is part of the fun. For a while, things work great. Jabber gets excited about building things specifically for Monkey to wreck.

Eventually, though, Jabber's creativity gets a hold of him, and he gets an idea of what he really wants to build. I notice him huddling up around his creation, kicking out his legs or arms furiously toward Monkey if he gets too close. Soon, he is hoarding all of the pieces inside this little circle of his arms, screeching at the top of his lungs any time Monkey even looks at him funny. And of course, this makes Monkey want to get at it even more. Pretty soon there is chaos.

So I think, well, what Jabber wants is the freedom to build without his brother breaking his stuff, right? I offer him the option of going out on the back deck to play with the Legos by himself--an offer that is even cooler because he is the only one who is old enough and responsible enough to be able to go out unsupervised. Monkey plays pretty happily by himself, but Jabber comes in after just few minutes. What's wrong? He misses playing with Monkey. I start to pull my hair out. So, he misses fighting Monkey off with a stick? He misses screeching at the top of his lungs? He misses seeing Mama freaking out and losing her cool?

I can't go out there and play with him. 'Cause, then Monkey is unsupervised, which is just a recipe for disaster. Already, we have several times each week that are one-on-one free play time for each boy and me, at least in the summer we do. They get to call the shots, decide what we do and what we play.

Sigh. I know there's no solution, exactly, no matter how many parenting books I read. I know there's no secret way to make siblings never fight. I just wish I could make them...not batter each other.

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