Friday, March 19, 2010

When it's warm, I just turn the hose on them.

This morning, as I was dropping Sprout off and racing out the door to get Sweetpea to school on time, his teacher stopped me for a "quick question":

"How do you handle it when siblings fight?"

Not one to give short shrift to such a complex topic, I thoughtfully held an imaginary gun to my head and pulled the trigger.

I regret it now. (And not just because it may have slightly undermined my I-have-no-idea-why-he-keeps-playing-violent-games-at-school-it-must-be-because-he's-fallen-in-with-a-bad-crowd-because-we-certainly-don't-condone-that-behavior-at-home image.) If I'd had more time to think about it, I would have answered more sincerely. Something like:

  • Huh? Sorry -- couldn't hear you. Earplugs.

  • Or: I wouldn't know. I find if you love them enough, they don't need to argue.

  • Or maybe: It's a question of balance, really. You just have to find the right mix of boxed wine and prescription pills.

  • Naturally, I jest. Anyone who's spent more than 10 minutes with me and my children knows I would never drink wine out of a box.

    The truth is, as much as they love and enjoy each other, my kids also fight. They fight a lot. My responses run the gamut, depending on my energy level and how many times that day I've already said, "What would have been a better way to handle that?"

    The "Let them work it out" approach seems logical. Unfortunately, it's also loud, and it generally takes a long time because they're not very good at it. At best, it buys me a few more minutes in the bathtub or on the phone before I have to jump in and deal with it anyway.

    As a younger sibling, I also believe Sprout is at a disadvantage in this scenario. Yes, he needs to learn to stand up for himself, but there are limits when he's dealing with someone who's got a full three years of cognitive development on him.

    On the other hand, Sprout has a gift for doing things that are both just under my radar and guaranteed to push Sweetpea over the edge. There aren't many advantages to having a sibling with SPD, but this is definitely one of them. Humming persistently at a certain frequency can be enough to set her off on a bad day, and the resulting bruise is apparently a small price to pay for an ice pack and some one-on-one time while his sister does a time out.

    For a smart kid, Sweetpea does not always do herself any favors. Just this morning she defended herself by claiming "I did not kick him ..." (which would have made it his word against hers if she'd stopped there, instead of finishing the thought) "... where he says I did." (Sigh. Time out.)

    I could have answered Sprout's teacher with a single word. Because the most effective strategy I've found for stopping the never-ending arguments over such critical issues as who is reading whose cereal box and who is or is not copying whom? School.

    With my first summer as a full-time stay-at-home-mom fast approaching, I'm going to need some new tools in the tired, beat-up toolbox. So I ask you, since you're clearly not late for something important if you're reading this: How do you handle it?


    1. Oh dear Jill - I was hoping for an answer from you! E is almost 2 and W is 3.5 and it is certainly getting interesting around here. I LOVE your answer about school - and I feel for those with LONG summers ahead of them. Perhaps day camps are feasible? I'll read for other brilliant answers. The "let them work it out" only goes so far at this age and W is practically 2x Evie's size (he's TALL!). But my brothers and I fought for a long time (I was the winey little sister - and soon figured out that dad would get made enough at the two brothers for picking on me - they finally stopped. But I was lke - 20.

    2. Dude.
      First: I check your blog more often than necessary, even when I'm late for something. OK? Ok.

      Second: Crap. It's almost summer. Thanks for the reminder. It'll be 90 Saturdays. IN. A. ROW. I tend to love me some Mondays.

      Thirdly: Mine are 8 years apart and I have NO answers. Seriously. That's just sad.

      Fourth: Pass the wine. Preferrably NOT in a box.


    3. These are the times that try parents' souls. I know that if it upsets you and you show it, then you become part of it. And it impairs your ability to deal with it. Wait for the best moment to intervene. Choose sanctions, if necessary, well. Conflict is part of life.

      We live an increasingly stressful era. Two-parent households (that last) have become rare. So parents with low enough stress levels (to NOT let sibling fights upset them too) are hard to find.

      So I watch people continue on, doing the best they can, despite the impairment of dealing with their own personal stress (unrelated to the two little ones).

      Just continue the juggling act, remembering that if you fall apart, nobody benefits. Keep some time to care for yourself. And remember that they might forget what you said or did, but they will remember how you made them feel. Admit it if you make a mistake. And try not to ever let them forget that you love them.

      Hey, you asked ...

      Uncle Doug

    4. Wow, this is a tough one! Separating them is key for me (my two boys are 9 and 6). This doesn't come easily and usually involves a substantial amount of yelling and then having me play a game with one of them. I try distractions often. For example, I would take away both cereal boxes and then start telling stories about my extended family. Sometimes I join in the copying just to relieve the tension.

      As for the summer days, I couldn't take it if there wasn't *something* special each day that they could look forward to. I'm just not good with boredom, I guess.


    5. We bought a book, called "Siblings Without Rivalry" so we could feel like we were confronting the problem. Then we put it on our bedside table in hopes of one day reading it (once we have time for reading when the kids have all moved out...)