You guys, I cannot take the fighting anymore. My boys look for each other. They hate to be separated. But almost immediately from the moment that they wake up until the moment that they go to bed, they fight. And I am not even talking about the “he hit me with a [insert any object you can think of here]” type of fighting, though that happens too. I am talking about the non-stop bickering; the “he took my toy” and “he knocked down what I was building.”
But as annoying as all of that can be, what bothers me more is the “I don’t love you then…” that my youngest son mutters during every single disagreement that he does not get his own way. He has always done this. When he was barely two years old, he would say “I no love you,” so the statement has evolved with his language skills, but the sentiment remains. And when he does this in arguments with me, I tell him that that makes me sad because I always love him, no matter what, even when he does not do exactly what I want when I want, but still he persists. And he persists because he is very sensitive, and when he hurts, his primitive, three year old self wants others to hurt too. And it works. It especially hurts my oldest son, because he is also sensitive, and one of the most loving kids around.
And I have found that generally when my boys are arguing, I am forced to intervene, because if I don’t, it almost always turns physical and ends with someone crying. By that point, I am usually crazy, losing my mind, yelling at everybody—as if somehow that is supposed to send the message that yelling does not solve your problems. Hey, I didn’t say that I was proud of my every intervention. But also, I come in, listen a bit about what the problem is, and solve it quickly by giving the toy back to the original handler or helping to rebuild the knocked down project, which solves the problem quickly so we can move on. At best, maybe I am modeling how to solve each problem, but mostly I am just problem solving and they are just watching, waiting to see if whatever injustice their sibling bestowed upon them will be righted.
I have even had moments where I have told my two boys to spend some time apart because they cannot seem to get along. And while I do think it is generally important to know when you need space from someone and to take it, it does not help them to get along better. It only serves my desire to not listen to them fight anymore.
As an adult, I have found that when my husband and I, or my kids and I, or my mother and I are not getting along, I usually do not feel good about it. In fact, I often feel unsettled until we have worked out our differences, no matter how small. So, I wondered, how could I help my two young kids to do the same?
After giving it some thought, I decided to talk to my husband; he agreed that our current interventions, while not likely hurting our boys’ relationship, were also not likely helping it either. So, we agreed to try something different. We also talked to our boys and got their input too. Here’s what we decided to try:
We agreed that for one week we would first allow the boys to try to work out their differences still, since sometimes, they are able to. But when a problem rises to the level of them requesting assistance or hitting each other or one another’s property, we would immediately all go sit together at the dining room table. No matter what the problem was, we would start by having each boy say one positive thing about the other. Then, we would talk through whatever the problem was and try to solve it together before sending them back to play.
Day 1: The boys were screaming from the other room. I asked them to meet me at the table. They groaned, but came. I asked my youngest to go first (because I was not positive he would cooperate).
“I don’t want to,” he said.
“Take your time, just name one thing you like about Jason,” I replied.
“Fine. I like his bedroom,” he grumbled. They share a bedroom. But he’s three and it was progress. I decided to accept the answer.
“Jason, it’s your turn. What is something you like about Dominic?” I asked.
“ummm …. Hmmmm … Ugh …. I don’t know …. I can’t think of anything …..” he said.
“Take your time. No rush. There are so many great things about your brother that I am sure you can come up with one,” I persisted. And we waited. And waited. And waited.
Finally, “I like how Dominic is really funny.”
And they both smiled. I asked if they wanted to talk about the disagreement that brought us to the table, and neither was really interested. And off they went, and they peacefully coexisted for the rest of the night.
Day 2: I hear Jason yell, “Mommy, Dominic took my guy that I was playing with,” followed by Dominic shouting, “No. I had it first.”
This time, they both came to the table with no resistance when prompted, leaving behind the toy in question.
Less prodding was needed this time, but still I had to encourage them.
Dominic started, “I like Jason’s tablet.” Ok. Now he is only focusing on external things, but I decided to wait before correcting him.
Jason replied, “I like how cute Dominic is.”
Then, unexpectedly, and without prompting, Dominic said, “And I like when Jason plays the Paw Patrol game with me.”
And off they went to play the game together.
Day 3: “Stop it!!!!” Jason shouted. Then crying. “Mommy, Jason pushed me.” “I pushed him because he was going to break my lego house.”
Ugh. “Ok, boys. To the table.” And they came.
Dominic volunteered to go first, “I like when Jason plays minions with me.”
Jason quickly responded, “… and I like playing that with you too.”
And off they went to find the minions, and I did not hear any fighting for a while. Wait. What?!? Did this seriously just happen?
That night, at bedtime, when I asked the boys what the best part of their day was, as I always do, Dominic said, “saying what we like about each other.”
Hmm. That was unexpected.
And, truthfully, we never made it a full week. We stopped after just 3 days. But, believe it or not, I do feel like my boys have been fighting a little less lately. So, maybe the question is not how do I stop these two opposites of mine from fighting; perhaps the real question is, what ways can I help them better get along?
I would love to know what works for you and your family. What have you tried?