Tagged siblings

For everyone who has a middle child...

Stuck In The Middle With You – From One Middle Child To Another

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“I don’t love you anymore.”

These words would strike a dagger into the hearts of most parents. The child you helped bring in this world – the one who you STILL help get his shoes on EVERY TIME he leaves the house – the one you feed 2 times before you even sit down at the dinner table – your own child who you sacrifice your own needs for routinely.

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These words don’t get to me – because I have said them myself – many times growing up.

You see – I am a middle child, same as my son. You can call us middles – you can throw out phrases like “middle-child syndrome,” you can try to define us, but we’re as difficult to define as irony, (Alanis Morissette is a middle child.)

So being a middle child, my heart goes out to my son. It’s not easy being a kid – and it’s really not easy being a middle child. All my old feelings I had growing with my older (good looking, football playing) brother, and my little sister (who got away with murder) they all come back when I see my son.

When I wasn’t getting beat up by my older brother, I was seeing all the things my sister got that I didn’t get at the same age. And the poundings never stopped me from sticking up to my brother- that’s gotta be some middle thing.

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“You’re not my friend. And you never will be.”

Coming from one of my daughters, this would sting, of course, but only one of them can talk – and the other would never mean it, so I am safe for a while. But I hear this phrase from Asher, and my brain processes it as “Give me a break dad.”

A middle never gets the undivided attention of his parents-like my eldest did for 2 years before we had another baby. A middle never feels the unbridled joy of the last baby – the one that we, as parents, always say ‘let’s appreciate and savor this because it’s the last time we’ll do it.’

NO.

I could tell him “I understand” but that’s the last thing a middle wants to hear. I know better than that – you couldn’t possible understand.

LOTS OF GOOD IN THE MIDDLE

So, in thinking about my son, and all these middle traits – I realized it’s not just about empathy for my middle son- truth be told, I am kinda proud to be a middle myself. So I came up with a top 5 qualities I see in my son that may be attributed to his birth order:

4.  Negotiation skills: When you have an older and younger sibling, your life is about negotiation.  You have to learn to talk  to get your way- and I already see my son as a master negotiator.  “I’m hungry Papa.  Chocolate has protein in it.” *nods*

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3. Independence: All the times he’s playing with friends and just kind of drops back, and starts doing his own thing, I remember that I still battle the desire to be a ‘lone wolf.’ There’s just something displeasing about wanting to be with a pack sometimes – it seems like it would be fun- but it’s never as cool as you expect. I feel you son.

2. I Will Be Heard: I am glad he can express himself the way that he does. Sure, he says hurtful things, and sure he says things over and over again to emphasize his point. But, he is not sitting idly by. He has a sense of rebellion that I have always appreciated in kids – I sometimes wonder how many members of The Ramones or Sex Pistols were middle children?

Maybe it’s the middle child in me, but I decided to leave off #1 and #5 – sometimes, that’s the only ones people read in these lists.  I guess one of them might be something about being contrary.  So what?

 

 

Conflict Resolution

Conflict Resolution: How I Stopped Worrying And Embraced The Fight

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Conflict ResolutionBeing a parent is not easy on a normal day. But then, there are those ‘other days.’

If you have not had a day where you wanted to take an ice pick to the ol’ retina, then my friend, you have not been tested like I have as a parent.

And, trust me, I am a proponent of parenting. It is the best thing that has ever happened to me. Sure it’s also the most challenging thing. But, nothing is quite as good without the challenge, or at least, that’s what the inspirational memes say on Google, the ones I seek out at 11:30 at night to reassure myself.

If you have multiple kids, then you know all about conflict. There are conflicts, many conflicts within a day.

Conflicts can eat you alive if you don’t have a plan. I can’t tell you what is best for you, but I do have a plan, and these next words may seem crazy, but stay with me:

EMBRACE THE CONFLICT

It is going to happen, as sure as the sun will come up tomorrow, as sure as we need nutrients to live (unless you’re a 5-year-old that can live off a strict diet of graham crackers and peanut butter), it is known that my son will snatch my daughter’s favorite possession right from her hands (which then becomes the only toy in the house and the last toy ever made) and run. I know my daughter will chase after him, yelling and screaming. It will happen.

What to do? Take it all in. This is really what having a sibling is after all, and the kids relish it, so why shouldn’t I?

APPROACH CALMLY

After I hear a conflict, I first check to see who’s going to be the adult to mediate, if I hear the wife’s footsteps, then I back out like a dump truck on a crowded street. (beep, beep beep).

But, if it’s me, I approach willingly. Take a deep breath, hold it in, and gently breath out. If I do that before I get involved, two things will happen:

  1. I will not burst out laughing at the (occasional) absurdity of the situation.
  2. I will keep my own emotions in check – allowing their emotions to be at the forefront, and leaving my own frustration back on the couch where I belong.

ACKNOWLEDGE AND VALIDATE THEIR FEELINGS

As easy as it would be to set up a judicial system, with myself as the supreme overlord, it would not help my children understand why they’re fighting, and it teaches them nothing about how to handle an argument down the road, when they are adults.

Most importantly, I want my kids to know that their feelings matter. I want them to learn empathy, so model it I must. Therefore, at this point, the only questions is “You look really upset, what happened?” I really try to feel the feelings of my child. This shows them that they are entitled to whatever emotion they are having. Young children don’t always recognize their especially powerful emotions, so once we can suss out the emotions being felt, I try to label those feelings for future reference.

Many of these feelings, I, as an adult, don’t have much anymore. Try and imagine the last time you actually cried because someone at work had something for lunch that you wanted and you will see what I mean. It’s important to try and be in touch with these feelings, for their sake.

GATHER MORE INFORMATION

Once the emotions have been appropriately labeled and validated, the children are more likely to be forthcoming with further information. So I listen closely, then restate what I hear “So, your brother put your cereal bowl on his head and wore it like a hat, is that what made you upset?” This is called Sportscasting and a quick Google will give you further examples. I try to be as impartial as I can be. I don’t want to take sides, or lay blame. I try to direct all the dialogue to the other child, “tell your brother, not me.”

HELP THEM FIND A SOLUTION TO THE PROBLEM

When I was a child, the solutions to conflicts with my brother were easy. There were only two possible solutions:

  1. Run for my life and find my parents
  2. Run for my life and not find parents (be pounded by big brother)

As a parent, I want better (and more) solutions for my own kids, and I want my kids to learn to be the ones to find these solutions.

This requires the largest commitment in this process: Patience. You may feel the urge to quickly drop down some solutions so you can move on. Fight this feeling – remember – you’ve embraced the conflict and here is your reward: you get to hear your kids come up with some ways to fix it – and here’s the beauty – It doesn’t even have to be fair. Nope, you don’t have to look out for the underdog. If they both agree to it- then you’re golden!

Finding a solution may take time in the beginning, depending on the severity of stubbornness of your child (My son is at a nuclear level) and that’s OK. You can suggest ideas after they’ve had time to come up with your own. But eventually, it will be fast: “Take turns.” “Set a timer!” – to referee the length of said turns – and oh the glory of it!

BE PREPARED TO BE A LIFELINE LATER

When are you most likely to get a speeding ticket? 3 blocks from your home. What is the hardest part of your Everest adventure? The way down.

When is it most likely to have a reoccurrence of a conflict? Within 1 minute of solving the problem. So, don’t go screaming “home free” yet. Stay around for a minute –or-2, and consider yourself a resource in this time. This is such an important time, where the solution goes into practice. Try to regale in this victory, and congratulate your kids on their victory in problem solving. Live in the moment, because guess what? The conflict will return. Only in time, you’ll love it (see step 1) and your children will be a bit more prepared for it each and every time.

{The teaching application of conflict resolution via HighScope can be further researched in the book: You Can’t Come To My Birthday Party!I think this is also a great resource for parents.}
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The Kids are Roughhousing Again

The Kids are Roughhousing Again

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My Introduction to Roughhousing

My introduction to roughhousing probably started when I tried to bowl over my older brother when I was 9 or 10. That didn’t go so well for me. Through the years of our youth, my brother, 2 years my senior, and I would continue wrestling each other in episodes sparked by…complete randomness. By random, I mean it The Kids are Roughhousing Again
was never sparked by the need for retribution or to seek punishment for some wrong committed by the other. That fraternal judicial system was a completely different one that involved a warning and a punch in the arm. And the punch in the arm always followed the warning because any younger brother worth his salt never heeds the warning! Roughhousing, on the other hand, isn’t about anger or fighting.

So how or why do siblings end up rolling around on the floor so often?

If you do a quick google search for “why do kids wrestle”, you get several links about the benefits of play fighting, a book entitled, The Art of Roughhousing, and pleas from wrestling organizations to help keep the sport alive. If you’re feeling more zoological and you search for “why do animals wrestle” you’ll learn a little about professional wrestler and WWE Hall-of-Famer Road Warrior Animal, aka Joe Laurinaitis or the fact that the WWE has a Hall of Fame. In other words, there are not tons of people searching for why young kids, teenagers and even young adults spontaneously wrestle each other. It’s like we don’t care why it happens. We just want to know whether we should let it happen and when we should stop it. That’s the practicality of parenthood.

Play-Fighting or Serious Business – Hey there, Anthropology!

My own children’s roughhousing can sometimes look more like my two dogs going after each other (a 2.5 yr old female and a 10 mo old boy puppy). My dogs bear teeth, nip faces and legs and the older one will sometimes drag the puppy around by his collar. Yes!! This sounds a little more like my two boys! It’s a funny comparison but when our pets wrestling each other, we accept that they instinctually have to establish an alpha role. Do our kids need to do the same? As parents, that’s not an easy question to ask much less answer. Play fighting or roughhousing sounds innocent and developmental while establishing dominance seems callous and bullying.brown-bear-cubs-wrestling_w560_h700

Should we make room for the type of roughhousing that’s more Animal Planet and less Sprout?

Back to my web browser and focusing more anthropologically, I came across a study entitled “The Logic of Animal Conflict”, printed in 1973 in Nature and I’m thinking YES!

Indeed, you will read about intraspecies “limited war” in which winners “gain mates, dominance rights, desirable territory, or other advantages that will tend toward transmitting its genes to future generations at higher frequencies than the loser’s genes,” and I’m thinking YIKES!!

So now I’m backtracking and thinking that maybe my kids aren’t like my pets. We’re animals but we have frontal lobes. Plus the article doesn’t even broach the subject on humans because it’s purpose is to explore the evolutionary benefits of play-fighting to individuals and species and we’re a species of individuals undecided about evolution, but I digress.

Evolution or Egg Shells

Desirable territory? They chose their own bedrooms!!

Access to resources? Steak dinners and ample closets!!

Dominance rights? We love our kids equally!!

But wait!!

One of those needs isn’t like the others. As parents, we remove the need for our children to define their territory by giving them their own spaces, especially when they’re being particularly annoying. We provide food and clothing until our fashion choices for them become socially unacceptable.

However, we don’t help our children establish dominance. In fact we do and say whatever we can to discourage this. We assure our children that they are all equal in abilities and when age and experience surface to the contrary, we explore and highlight enough variety in abilities to balance the equation so that no one is better or worse than anyone else when considering the sum of everything. Parents are the ultimate spin doctors.

Unlike our animal counterparts who seemingly don’t have feelings, us human parents cringe a little when our kids broach activities meant to establish dominance or bragging rights with sports or martial arts maybe being an exception. We move quickly to hedge against any gains or losses that one achieves over another. The problem is this: We can hedge and protect and insulate all we want, but our children will still constantly one up each other. Evolution for the win!

What Establishing Dominance Looks Like

Poking, pushing, bumping or otherwise taking up the other person’s space.

  • Where we see this: The backseat. It’s mandatory for rides over 10 minutes
  • Parent will say: “Keep your hands and feet to yourself!”
  • Ability to stop: That’s not a serious question, is it?

Quizzing each other on math, or sports factoids or Greek mythology – whatever subject one is sure that the other doesn’t know.

  • Where we see this: Dinner table
  • Parent will say: “You’re both smart in different ways!”
  • Ability to stop: Fairly easy, but why would you? You’re learning so much.

The scrum that looks like someone is going to injured at any moment.

  • Where we see this: Any open space inside or outside.
  • Parent will say: “watch it, stop it, careful, get off your brother, someone is going to get hurt!”
  • Ability to stop: Only if you witness desire to harm, but by then it’s a matter of seconds before someone starts crying and it’s over anyway.

Roughhousing in Action

On a recent trip to New Orleans, my Father-In-Law and I took my two 10-year old boys to Audubon Park for some exercise. We brought a spongy football with us. Before we got out of the parking lot, a silly toss towards the backside of one of my sons turned into “lets peg each other”. The ball and the tosses weren’t dangerous, no one was getting hurt and there was equal give and take until….

My younger son (younger by 8 months) felt a little picked on. He was losing this subtle form of roughhousing so he started hiding behind trees. Part not wanting the game to be over and part sensing an opportunity, my older son gave chase, still playing peg. Soon afterwards there was some de-escalation typical of roughhousing dynamics until….

The younger son rushes at the older one and jumps on him. No anger, tears or yelling. Just the younger determined to get the older onto the ground. Within 10 seconds, the younger was himself on his back with my older son walking away. The score: 0 people hurt to 1 point made.

And then the Younger decided to keep at it!

Charge! Grab! Tug! Get dumped on the ground! Charge! Grab! Etc!

The pattern repeated until the scorecry was about 0 to 5 and it was time to step in. Frustration was setting in as the younger wasn’t getting the results he wanted. He tried a different tact: “Dad, Davis keeps throwing me to the ground!” Knowing that Patrick (the younger) responds really well to logic, I tried “This seems like your own doing. If you don’t want Davis to drop you on the ground, you probably shouldn’t jump on him.”

And here is really where it turned from family sitcom to nature documentary:

After several seconds when I thought tensions were eased…

Charge! Grab! Get dumped on the ground!

Patrick rushed again at Davis and once again found himself among the dirt and leaves.

Now, if my boys were my pet dogs, this would have ended with them drinking out of the same water bowl and taking a nap together on the couch. Still a funny comparison, but my dogs don’t have feelings – or at least human feelings so it takes a little longer for my sons to reconcile.

But since I didn’t step in, blame Davis for Patrick’s dirty knees, face and back and since I didn’t otherwise reestablish equality between them, Patrick’s only recourse (in his own mind) was exasperation and a declaration of his exit from our family as he turned and walked away. He had initiated all of the action but he had trouble dealing with the outcomes.

Oh feelings.

Don’t Stop Wrestling, Learn From It

Replaying this in my head while I walked after my kid, my mission became clear. It wasn’t the wrestling that was the problem; it was Patrick’s (and Davis’s) ability or inability to learn from it.

It took almost 9/10th of a mile walk with Patrick to convince him of the same. Back at the house and after some decompression, we had a family huddle (my wife, the kids and I) so that we could all process it together. As I remember, the family huddle interrupted the kids playing again, so there’s that.

My prevailing impressions during this entire episode were NOT of fighting, aggression or anger but rather of Patrick’s stubbornness and Davis’s restraint. It wasn’t harmful or scary for either Davis or Patrick. We specifically asked about feelings of fear. So no physical or mental scars and no relationship chasms had occurred. Responses from the boys to our questions in those 10 minutes were answered with about as much concern as if we had asked them their favorite colors. The just wanted to get back to playing.

The lasting reality in all of this is that our kids are constantly figuring out for themselves where they rate in this world. Roughhousing, wrestling, or otherwise establishing dominance are all just data points that help them make sense of who they are and where they stand with each other. They’re far less concerned about thir need to do this and far more concerned about what it means in the grand scheme of things. This is where we need to focus as parents. Any efforts by us shouldn’t be to quell these roughhousing or contradict the results, but rather to help our children process the information.

“Wow, you’re sister really kicked your butt but I still love you.”

Not exactly, but if we allow our kids to have these matches and we’re there for them to deal with the results, without contradicting the results; everyone will be better for it.


References

http://psychcentral.com/lib/6-benefits-of-roughhousing-for-kids/0007973

The Logic of Animal Conflict (1973). Nature. Vol 246