LET’S GET READY TO RUMBLE!!!
Good evening ladies and gentlemen! Welcome to tonight’s boxing match which promises to be a genuine a classic. In the red corner, weighing in at approximately 60 pounds, aged 8 and the self-proclaimed champion of the world – it’s ‘I have an answer for everything and it’s the opposite of what you think’ NJ!!
*The crowd roars*
And in the blue corner, weighing in at about 40 pounds is our 4 year old underdog – what she lacks in size she makes up in volume, it’s Roo!!
Recently, our days often start like this. Our two eldest are constantly squaring up to each other, determined to fight over everything. They fight over the breakfast cereal, over which seat at the table they sit on, over who gets to drink out of the red cup and over the bathroom tap when the brush their teeth. They argue, squabble, bicker, mimic each other and wind each other up so much that I can only think that my kids hate each other!
When we had our third child last year I remember being worried about how we’d be unable to dedicate as much time and attention to NJ and Roo. I joked about having three kids to two parents meant a switch from man-to-man marking to a zonal system, and an increase of 50% poo. I didn’t give the relationship they had with each other as much thought. Now I’m worried we haven’t done enough to help them, that by being preoccupied with the new baby we’ve neglected them and somehow facilitated the deterioration of their relationship.
Of course, I expect them to disagree sometimes – conflict is natural and inevitable and getting them used to resolving their issues at an early age can set them up perfectly for dealing with it as adults. It is just that it seems to be so relentless at times and so draining to have to frequently split them apart. So where is it going wrong?
(Psst… I blame the parents)
Yes, I am part of the problem. I step in like a dutiful referee, trying to resolve their conflicts and problems for them – usually by shouting, looking for one of them to blame or judging what the fight is all about based on previous form without hearing both sides.
For example when they were alone in the living room this morning, Roo screamed and started sobbing. I rushed in, desperate to officiate the disturbance and return the household to normal. It turns out NJ had shoved her to the floor. I quickly told him off – after all how dare an eight-year-old shove his four-year-old little sister? It wasn’t until later that I found out that he pushed her after she blew raspberries in his face several times and wouldn’t stop despite him asking repeatedly.
NJ knows that pushing is never an appropriate response, but how I dealt with the relatively trivial situation would have been entirely different if I had known all the facts. Instead, I blamed NJ and made Roo the ‘victim’. It is my natural instinct to protect her more because she is younger, but I made the conflict worse. I left NJ feeling aggrieved at the perceived injustice, left him feeling resentment towards me and his ‘lucky’ sister who has gone unpunished for her part and left him feeling completely unvalued. How do I know this? ‘You’re so mean!’ he shouted. ‘You don’t care about me! You only care about her!’
Well done me.
in trying to manage their conflicts I’m also giving them the wrong type of attention. When they’re having a row over who gets the last peach flavoured tube-yoghurt, they may as well be screaming ‘Attention! We want your attention! We don’t care if it’s positive or negative! You spend so much time with our baby brother and doing jobs around the house and not enough with us!’
With three kids, mummy and daddy attention is unfortunately at a premium. The easiest and quickest way to get some of that precious parent-child time is to start a fight. By stepping in as that dutiful referee again, I’m giving them exactly what they crave, whether it is through punishment or trying to make them feel better with hugs. It’s a balancing act I’ve always struggled with as I don’t want them to be upset but I’m aware I’m rewarding negative behaviour.
Can we have the love back, please?
It never used to be like this.
When they were younger, they seemed to adore each other – just like they both adore their little brother Jasperino now. They cuddled, they held hands and played with each other contently. I’m not expecting them to always be happy with other and know that a disagreement will always be around the corner – I just want them to be a little less frequent.
So I’m going to focus on positive attention and praise them when they play nicely or are kind. I’m going to encourage them to think about each other’s feelings and their actions. I’m going to retire as that dutiful referee and let them resolve their own battles as far as possible.
They always seem happier when they have one-on-one time with their parents, when they’re seemingly not worried about competing for any attention. Likewise, when we’re all in a park as a family, walking the dog together. Or when we’re playing a board game together at home or watching a movie on the sofa with some popcorn. It is these memories I want them to have, not memories of their dad being mean all the time. But also, they need to learn how to do these things together, with Mum or Dad hovering around and telling them how annoying they’re being because Roo can’t pass NJ on the stairs because she doesn’t know the password. They need to work that out for themselves.
And if things don’t improve? Well, I guess I can always just look at these photos for a bit of nostalgia…
So, do your kids act like they’re about to step into a boxing ring? What issues have you faced and what tips do you suggest?