The scene: 

I walk into the living room after hearing some screaming to find my 4 year old with his 2 year old brother in his lap, both on the floor. My older son’s arms and legs are totally wrapped around his brother, and he’s rocking him back and forth, side to side, shouting “TRAP! TRAP! TRAP! YOU’RE IN A TRAAAAP!” The 2 year old doesn’t look thrilled, but he’s not crying, and hasn’t said “no” or stop.” Do I break it up? Wait it out? Turn around and pretend I saw nothing?

Laughter? Tears? Who knows...

My four year old actually yells “You can never make us separate!!!” True? Perhaps. 

I certainly went into having a second child knowing that kids roughhouse. My brother and I did as kids constantly. There were water fights, arm wrestling matches, and we once sank a canoe in a lake because we were fighting inside it. It inevitably went too far sometimes (“Sorry 25 years too late, little brother!” says the big, mean older sister!) but most times, it was just part of life with a sibling. Now, as the mom, I have a hard time knowing when to intervene and when to let them go at it.

The last thing I want is for the boys to grow up thinking I just turned a blind eye when one was bullying the other. However, I do think play-fighting and roughhousing are normal parts of being siblings. What I didn’t think, though, was that the line between play-fighting and real fighting would be so hard to see.

Many times, my instinct is to follow the advice of my all-time favorite parenting book authors, Adele Faber and Elanie Mazlish (authors of How To Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk as well as Siblings Without Rivalry) and state what I see and simply ask, i.e., “I see two kids grabbing each other! Is this playing or real?”, but even when they both seem to agree that they’re “playing”, it often takes a turn when one kid pushes it just a little too far, and it becomes a real fight complete with bumped heads or twisted arms.

So, fellow moms, what’s your stance on play-fighting? Is it allowed sometimes? Always? Never? Does it always end in tears? I don’t imagine this is something they’ll just outgrow anytime soon, but I am hoping it will get easier as our 2 year old starts to talk more…but I really would like to avoid setting up a wrestling ring and installing a bell in our yard, too…

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