Tuesday, February 3, 2009

To Speak or Not to Speak

When do you get involved with bickering between your children? That is the question!

Generally I err (like error) on the side of speaking too frequently. I have a difficult time standing by while one child gets picked on or deliberately irritated by the other. But if we as parents are always getting involved, how do they learn to "work things out" on their own? It's painful for me to listen to one child being manipulated, or bugged while I stand idly by. The other down side of becoming overly involved is that you end up (I end up) sounding like an angry referee all the time. "Benjamin, stop teasing your brother." "Ripley, mind your own business." "Benjamin, Ripley can do it by himself." "Ripley, Benjamin is doing his homework, give him some space." Unattractive. Unpleasant. 

Yesterday I made and very specific effort to say nothing. The boys were arguing upstairs while brushing their teeth and hair before school. Sometimes Benjamin will do things for Ripley just to get his goat. So Benjamin, true to form, was putting toothpaste on Ripley's toothbrush.
Ripley insists "Benjamin, I can do it by myself!!!"
Benjamin defends "I'm just trying to help you!" 
Ripley stands his ground "I can dooooooo iiiiiitttt!"
This type of thing went on and on. Finally they worked it out and got the job done. But it was torturous. 

On the drive to school (as the boys were getting a bit wild in the back seat) I was thinking about a conversation I had with my father over the weekend. He grew up in a home with four boys. He was the youngest and most mischievous, but also the one most commonly picked on (at least that's his side of the story, his brothers claim he was the most defended and still tease him "Awwwww, poor Billy!"). It's amazing to hear all of the things these boys did to each other in their home. I am certain as a parent I would have been putting my foot down a lot more often. I asked Dad at what point his parents got involved while they were wrestling in the house (four boys!), playing tricks on or just torturing each other. He said they generally didn't. (Disobedience on the other hand was a whole 'nother story!) Apparently my Uncle Ol' C (aka: Uncle Dick) as one of the brightest in the bunch (according to Dad), really drove his parents bananas with his arguing, rationalizing and justifying. Dad chalks this up to a brilliant mind and thinks this is part of my struggle with Benjamin -- who effortlessly gets A's without any guidance from me. The ironic thing is, the more I get involved, the more arguing, rationalizing and justifying I hear. All of my uncles (and father) turned out to be wonderful men, so maybe there is wisdom in the old saying "boys will be boys".  Just let them work it out, and buy a pair of earplugs.

How about you? What do you think?


Kristi said...

Eeeek...I hate it when my girls bicker. I usually stay out of it. My husband on the other hand...It really bothers him. I think I need to convince him to stay out of it.

I usually only step in if it escalates, or if it just goes on and on and I can't take it anymore! Most of the time they come to some kind of agreement among themselves.

a. borealis said...

Interesting... I'm not at that stage yet, as we are usually having to protect the baby from an overly-exuberant 3 year old - but I have wondered what it will be like.

From what I've read/heard, it seems like letting them figure it out themselves is the best bet, as they learn problem-solving skills in the process. Though...I wonder if that tactic needs a few interjections of, "Figure it out yourselves!"

I don't know...I will be curious to see what other people say.

Anonymous said...

I feel the same conflict everyday many times over. The big problem is that at ages 5 and 2.9 they almost always end up escalating the argument into physical violence. So do I stand by and wait for the inevitable bite or pinch or shove or hit etc, or do I intervene earlier? It is very challenging.