Q&A: siblings fighting (not just rivalry)

Jen writes:

"I was hoping you might have some fresh thought about siblings. I've read all your suggestions about siblings. Read Siblings Without Rivalry. Read the NurtureShock bit and your thoughts on making the time sibling spend together more enjoyable, even if it is less time over all. Here is where I am at:

My boys are 6 and 2.5. The six year old is highly intelligent, opinionated, sensitive, outgoing, and very in touch with his emotions. The little one is pure sunshine. Also very outgoing, active, and happy. Did I mention that they are 6 and 2.5? So they have all that developmental stuff going on. But individually both my boys are a joy to be around. And yet when you put them together it is a constant struggle. The little one is all over my elder and his stuff. He has his own room, and will often retreat to it. If they are left on their own I can almost guarantee that the little one will do something 2.5ish that will frustrate his brother to the point that big brother knocks him on his head. Little brother loves big brother. Big brother hates little brother.

So at this point I keep them separated as much as possible. I try to make the interactions they do have positive. I try to teach language that will help them work things out on their own, since 2.5 seems way too young to be able to negotiate for himself. But nothing I am doing feels like it is nurturing "brotherly love". Eldest and I talk a lot about loving your family members all the time even if you don't like their behavior. We talk about how he will be a good friend when he gets a little bigger. We talk about the fact that elder wishes younger was never born, allowing plenty of space for feelings. Sometimes I just fell like locking the two of them in a cage and letting them work it out. Is there a magical age that I can do that?

Neither I nor my husband grew up with siblings. There seems to be a plethora of information on siblings when there is a new baby involved, or when they are old enough to work out their own problems. But I could really use some feedback on getting through this age, and some hope that my boys can still grow up to enjoy each other."

 I feel your exact pain on this one. Your exact pain. Your sons' personalities sound a lot like my sons' personalities, and the age split is almost the same. And I remember that constant fighting at that age vividly. And I grew up with one brother so I never experienced the two boys fighting thing.

The bad news is: They don't stop fighting.

The good news is: They alternate fighting and hugging now.

When I was in a fit of worrying about my sons' fighting and what it meant for their future together AND what it meant for my current sanity* I decided to ask some adult male friends with brothers if they thought it was normal and when it would end.

Uniformly,these men--good, decent, funny, educated, productive, informed, intelligent men--gave me the same answer: "Oh, we still fight when we're in the same room. When we're all at my mom's house she makes us go outside so we don't break the furniture."

Facepalm. Also, really?? 40-year-old men rolling around in the front yard pummeling each other...

So I'm beginning to think that the fighting isn't really a problem for them. It's a problem for us, but it's part of the interaction of brothers (not all brothers, and I'm sure some sisters do the physical wrestling fighting, too) and doesn't seem to bother them.

I'm not surprised that your 6-year-old isn't excited about your 2.5-year-old. Toddlers can be especially annoying, and the younger one can't really do anything the older one can do. That will ebb and flow as they get older and come into phases of being able to do more together and then go out of them again. If it seems like genuine malice I'd absolutely consult a professional about it. But if it's just the normal "get out of my stuff; why can't I be an only child?" stuff, then I think giving them a good mix of time apart from each other and time together is both sending the family unity message you want to send and also giving them each enough space.

Because that's the trick, I think, is to reinforce family unity but at the same time make sure each one knows he's loved for himself.

Now, the other good news is that when I was asking my male friends about the fighting, all of them also said some variation of "I love my brother" or "My brother is my best friend." So somewhere in all that wrestling it seems to connect them.

I hope.


What do you all think? Men with brothers, do you still fight? What is that about? Parents of brothers? Did it stop or slow down for your kids?


* Remember when I was in an 800-square foot 4th floor walkup apartment with them? Fun times.