I had gone upstairs when the rumblings of ‘the incident’ began. I heard a lot of screaming and door slamming. I quickly reviewed the morning in my head. I had implemented all my coping strategies to have a good morning. I had greeted both my boys warmly. I had engaged them both in conversation over breakfast and as I left them to their own devices, did not feel anything was amiss. About two minutes after I exited, I heard the ruckus begin. Again, I did my best to ignore it and I hoped that it would blow over. It did not. Unfortunately, I was going to have to directly intervene.
I took a couple deep breaths, squared-up my shoulders and headed directly into the line of fire. My youngest was outside the bathroom looking guilty and my oldest had locked himself inside. I was able to coax him to open the door and found him crumpled on the floor with a sad mix of anger and frustration pouring out of him. Since this wasn’t my first rodeo and knew my youngest had done something, I spun around and calmly pointed upstairs. “Go to your room, now,” I said. I leaned back into the bathroom and said to my oldest, “I know you are frustrated and I can respect that. Go ahead and let it out. We can talk about it in a few minutes.” With that, I left the scene of the crime and proceeded to get myself ready for the day ahead.
As I thought about my next moves, I had to coach myself through my own bubbling frustration. Even though their crazy fighting certainly disrupted our morning, I tried to keep it in perspective. We are only in the second week of school and there are a lot of changes they both are experiencing. My oldest is processing through the new responsibilities of fifth grade where for the first time, he has to switch back and forth between classes. My youngest is having to follow the rules all day, every day at school and for someone who likes to be independent, I know this wears on him and he expresses this independence at home. Usually he does this by antagonizing his older brother. Even armed with the knowledge as to why the fight may have started, before I did anything, I gave myself a solid ten minutes before I talked to either one.
Each one had to be approached differently. With my fifth grader, I went the reasoning route. We discussed how younger siblings are famous for pestering their older siblings. I asked him, “How does Mom know this?” He replied, “Because you used to bug your older sister.” I wanted to validate that yes, his younger brother loves to push his buttons. However, and this is a big however, he needs to take responsibility for his part in the skirmish. He looked at me quizzically. “I’m guessing when I heard you screaming that it wasn’t because you were screaming about the great depths of love you have for your brother, am I right?” He shook his head and giggled. He knew what I meant. Yes, his brother attacked, but as we talked about what preceded the attack, my oldest understood where he contributed. He also knows, moving forward that he will be held accountable for his part in it, too.
With my youngest, I went a more black and white route. His track record of teasing his brother was enough for me to go straight to consequences. He will be having an early bedtime and any more mornings where he fights with his brother will result in more loss of privileges. He nodded in defeat and went off to apologize to his brother on my urging of course.
This morning was the perfect example how even when you do everything right, things are still going to go wrong. The best you can do is try not to get sucked in and give yourself some separation before you intervene. The more calmly you can address what is going on, the more quickly it will be resolved. Keep in mind, even if you have to send your kids off on a bad note, it’s okay. Not every morning will be perfect. Just chalk it up to a ‘not so good’ day and let it go.
Written by Diana DeVaul, MSW and Parent