Tuesday 12 December 2017

Family Life: Two of my boys are more like cage fighters than brothers

David Coleman

David Coleman

Q I have three children aged ten, eight and two years old. They are all boys.

My question is about my second child or at least mostly about him, but his brother too. The second lad is exceptionally competitive with his older brother; competitive to the point of fighting, tears and tantrums. Now I know boys fight and I am well used to the rough and tumble but I am just wondering why the seven-year-old keeps trying to outdo his older brother. He also complains to us that his brother is our favourite. Admittedly we do believe that the older lad should be entitled to do things fitting to his age without having his little brother doing the same thing. We do try to be equal in giving our time to the children and we would never let one get a treat like an ice-cream without the others getting one too. But he still complains if his older brother happens to be handed his first! I thought the two boys would be company for each other because they are pretty close in age but at times they are more like those extreme cage fighters than brothers. Is there anything we can do to help them get on better?

A The good news is that yes there are things that you can do to help them get on better. Of course you do need to remember any improvement in their relationship may be relative because sometimes some element of sibling rivalry just sticks.

I believe it can be hardest for middle children.

The eldest child gets the kudos of being the eldest and, like in your house, gets to do things first (first to get a phone perhaps, first to go to the shops alone etc).

The youngest child gets the status of being the baby and probably gets lots of attention for that.

The middle child, then, is left with no obvious reason to be noticed. So often they create a reason, sometimes they are exceptionally helpful and receive attention for that, sometimes they whinge in order to get attention and sometimes they can be the badly behaved child who can not be ignored.

In your situation it sounds like your second son could be jealous of his older brother and so sees competition as his means of evening things out.

Any jealousy is probably based on his perception that his older brother is better treated and more favoured in the family than he is.

The reality may be that you are very fair and even-handed in how you treat the three boys but the middle lad may not feel or perceive that fairness.


It is his perception, as opposed to the objective reality, that is important in determining his behaviour.

Currently it seems that any negative feelings he has towards his brother are directed behaviourally through competition and fighting.

I think that if you empathise with his belief that his brother may seem more loved than he is (even if you know it not to be true) that it will help to dissipate some of his negative feelings.

If he feels that you understand his sense of injustice, I believe that it will significantly reduce his need to take on his brother to prove that things are unfair.

I think you are right to let the older boy do things that are appropriate for his age.

It can be a hard lesson, but a good one, for younger children to learn that age and maturity do equate to a progression in life.

Indeed, it is more often older children who complain that their little brothers and sisters are getting to do things at a much younger age than they ever were.

If it helps you can write up on a chart the entitlements that accrue with age -- then there can be no dispute.

If the two boys help you to draw up the list and help to assign the ages at which different things are allowed you will also learn what their expectations are.

If those expectations are unreasonable then you can gently bring their expectations more in line before the event is reached.

Make sure to notice and comment on any times that you see them getting on together. It is a reminder for you, and them, that all is not negative in their relationship.

Sometimes children need to be actively reminded of the fact that they can get on as it is easy to only focus on the fighting.

Shared tasks are another way of helping them to work together rather than compete. If, for example, they have to work together to wash or vacuum the car, you can reward them for their collaboration rather than the cleanliness.

While the weather is still more amenable, it can be helpful too to just get them outside and burning up some energy.

The more they burn up outdoors the less they will have to fight with each other!

Irish Independent

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