This is what happens in my house from the moment my children wake up until the moment they fall asleep.
My sons, ages 2 and 4, fight for everything. Whether it’s sharing toys, the color of their plates, or even who has the biggest cup, it’s all a competition, and my husband and I are the referees.
The fighting is constant, and I wonder every day if this is normal.
I grew up with a brother 18 months younger than me and we argued. But my parents and I don’t remember it being as unsettled as what I’m experiencing with my two kids (although I realize we adults tend to block out some of the bad times).
My mom friends say their kids throw tantrums, but no one seems to understand my situation.
Knowing that I am one of countless parents going through this issue gives me comfort, but I have to do something to change the dynamic. I can’t stand the constant screaming.
I know deep down that I don’t handle their conflicts well: I threaten to take toys away from them; I try a break with my 4 year old, and sometimes I scream.
Since nothing is working, my husband and I decided we had to flip the script for our sanity. This challenge led me to seek out two parenting experts to change our parenting tactics. (They also have children.)
It’s hard to be a brother
When that doesn’t happen, Kennedy, better known as “Dr. Becky,” said it can be a bummer. “You’re like, ‘I didn’t expect this to happen for our kids to fight all the time. But fighting to some extent is part of brotherhood.”
I thought having two boys meant they would be best friends building blocky castles and laughing, not having MMA-style fights before the sun came up.
Kennedy suggested I watch it from my 4-year-old’s perspective.
“A first child has a whole family system, then a second child comes along, and everything the first child knew about how to feel safe in the world, how to get the love and attention of their parents, is totally tossed and mixed,” she said.
“The person we want our child to see as a playmate feels like a competitor,” she added. “Not a competitor for the green truck they’re fighting for, but really a competitor for feeling valuable and worthy, having one-on-one time and being seen.”
A 4-year-old doesn’t know how to express these feelings, she says, so he gets attention by “walking up to (his) brother and hitting him”.
Replace the word “stop” with “I won’t leave you”
On a typical Saturday morning, I take my boys to our playroom and watch them play. For the first few minutes, everything will seem quiet, so I’ll go upstairs and heat up my stale coffee.
Whether I’m with them or not, it’s guaranteed that one will want the other’s toy. Then a wrestling match ensues, which turns into screaming and crying with me smashing it like a bouncer in a nightclub.
I almost always tell the eldest to share with his little brother, and I always find myself shouting some version of “Stop fighting!”
Kennedy said I had it all wrong.
“We can’t say to the kids, ‘Give us back the toys.’ And you can’t say, ‘Stop doing that,'” she said. “You say to a child, ‘I see you’re out of control, but I’m not willing to take on my role of authority as a parent. … Can you stop doing what you clearly can do?’ t stop doing?’ ”
She’s right. I ask my 4 year old to share because I know my youngest child has a harder time doing it.
“It’s actually very terrifying for a child because your child thinks, ‘Wow, my parents can’t help me here and they’re asking me to do some adult work. We can always replace ‘we don’t and quit’ with ‘I won’t leave you’. ”
Kennedy also said no to time-outs, which I resort to if my oldest son repeatedly does something I’ve asked him not to do, like jump on the couch. “All that happens when you send a kid on a break and especially if you spank them is, ‘I don’t want to be with you. You’re a bad boy.’ “
She also doesn’t like threats. “You can’t learn to deal with a feeling by punishing a behavior. … We can tell our kids what we’re going to do, not what they can’t do. Say, ‘If you keep jumping on the couch, you won’t have your iPad. It requires my child to do something. That’s why threats and consequences don’t really work. ”
The next time I see my children fighting, she suggested that I say, “‘I won’t let you take his toy.’ Because what you’re really saying is, “You’re a great boy, but you’re doing something that’s not a good decision and because I love you, I’m going to stop you.”
“Your kids aren’t making good decisions because they don’t have the skills,” she said. “You and your husband have to teach them the skills.”
“Especially at 2 and 4,” Edlynn said, “they don’t have self-regulation when their brother upsets them. I always think we (the parents) are their brains. That’s why letting them fight until It doesn’t really work. Teaching them certain skills helps them develop their brains and will help them later in life.
Telling the problem is important, she said: “You pick up the toy and say, ‘Hey, we’ve got a problem,’ and the 4-year-old will probably tell you the little brother took it. the toy.
“You’ll need to relate and identify the problem calmly, and then hopefully their emotions will subside. Then, working with them to resolve the problem, you might say, ‘What do you think is your little brother not having the toy he wants? I think he’s feeling really jealous or angry.”
Then separate the children and sit down with the one who is having a hard time.
“You co-regulate (emotions) with him. They need physical comfort, a one-on-one connection,” Edlynn said.
Practice, practice, practice
It is practice makes perfect.
Kennedy suggested an exercise that my husband and I could do separately or together: We would take one of the children and act out a scenario such as dinner time or an argument over a toy.
“You solve problems when things are easy,” Kennedy said. “It’s the equivalent of practicing a free throw during practice rather than waiting to practice a free throw when the game is in play.”
“Ask your 4-year-old, ‘What would it be like if I had the blue block? I have the blue block. What could you do if I have the blue block and you want it? not let you hit me or grab me because it’s not safe for anyone so I wonder what you could do?’ “
Both experts told me that parenting at this age is about creating long-term boundaries.
“The way we present information to our children is either to develop their own understanding and sense of responsibility, as well as their own internal motivation to do things a certain way,” Edlynn said, “in relation to the more controlling position, (which) ends up working in the short term, and then the kids don’t learn.”
It will never be perfect
Edlynn, who has three children of her own, aged 12, 10 and 7, said we should all give ourselves a little break, noting that children’s brains are still developing. “We are their coaches for their brains,” she said, noting that she always asked, “How can my child learn from this moment?” ”
“I have a 10-year-old, a 7-year-old, and a 4-year-old,” Kennedy said. “I’m the first parent who needs to read my own Instagram and follow my own advice. I also have a lot of things that are difficult with my children.
“There is no perfect parent,” she said. “We are all wrong. »