My 4-year-old son and my soon-to-be-2-year-old daughter have wrangled up a new kind of competition. It seems to entail, as its most fundamental groundwork, which one of them can cry first, longest, and loudest. I started to notice the bidding a few weeks ago during one otherwise peaceful Saturday afternoon. As soon as Jai crumbled into her first distressed fit of the day, Jrue immediately covered up her groans with spectacular yowls of his own. They both searched for me in different directions; there I stood in my bedroom, confounded by the uncontrolled cacophony, as they blubbered out their individual anguished troubles.
I didn’t know what to do. My go-to is to ask Jrue what happened because he is the more verbal of the two children, but…now he lies. It’s always “Jai spilled the juice” or “Jai ripped the paper.” It’s rarely “I snatched the juice out of Jai’s hand” or “I pulled the book from her grip, tearing a page in the process.” He is a bit dramatic and usually cries in anticipation of getting “in trouble,” almost as a self-inflicted punishment. I find it amusing that he penalizes ahead of the procedures. Of course, asking for Jai’s side at this point yields a large amount of sob-ridden psychobabble, where some words blast out clear as day, but most are rootless.
I provided some faux-comfort, extending the illusion of consolation to the baby and distracting the preschooler with a juice box. Relative harmony settled its way in again, and the two actors sauntered back to previous activities.
Not even an hour later, they unraveled again, this time, Jrue leading the parade of noise while Jai choosing to stand and scream from her perch on the living room couch.
“Jai took my motorcycle!”
Jai’s communicated defense? “Loosblurmowoer!” between squalls.
I understand that, as they age, these spats could potentially be the norm. Jrue clearly annoys Jai sometimes—she adopts this look of patented aggravation when Jrue repeats instructions to her or tries to boss her around. Jai has a little theft infatuation as she adjusts her independence levels to her liking, so I know that she takes Jrue’s toys and runs away quickly. As much as I want them to only love one another unconditionally and show one another nothing but grand affection and bromance friendship, I find the beginnings of their contest quite…healthy.
And, according to many psychologists, a bit of objection amongst siblings is, indeed, beneficial. According to writer Melissa Fenton for Scary Mommy, “Children who are raised in a harmonious, nobody-ever-disagrees, ‘groupthink’ mindset tend to develop into young adults who cannot handle dissent. Conversely, kids who grow up in an environment with a bit of ‘tension’ grow up to me more creative and appreciate the value of open disagreements. Kids who grow up arguing learn to realize the benefit of debate and disagreement, and aren’t generally offended by others who think differently than they do.” (Fenton, “Experts Say To Let Your Kids Argue, And This is Why”)
Additionally, she includes, “. . .According to Adam Grant, a professor of management and psychology at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, the trick is to teach children to argue without making things personal.” (Fenton, “Experts Say To Let Your Kids Argue, And This is Why”) Naturally, Jrue and Jai take all of their strife installments especially personally at their ages because of the developmental need to express fully and to obtain desired results as instantly as possible. This level of desperate necessity will happen again as they grow into pre-pubescence together, particularly as Jai’s maturity zooms past Jrue’s, then as objection-embracing, moody teenagers.
But, it’s okay. Feel my serenity.
I do not have enough energy at a given moment now to decipher who exactly may have started the latest spat, let alone 14 or so years down the road. My kiddies give me enough to unscramble. Childhood behavioral inclinations dictate that children may say anything to get in (or back in) the good graces of parents, including made-up stories and imaginative exaggerations. I recall how I always had to be the most well-behaved of my mother’s children, so I understand the genetic dispositions my two may carry.
What I will begin to encourage with Jrue and Jai is an atmosphere of intelligent discussion and problem-solving instead of screaming at them to stop fighting. My dream is to build little business people who have the communication prowess and the open-mindedness to construct new ideas and respect differences while in conversation with others. They will also understand when to walk away from arguments that are going nowhere. Knowing how to disagree politely without resorting to name-calling and character assassination, coupled with emotional intelligence, likable charisma, and interaction mastery puts my children well ahead of many of our grown-ass adult leaders even now.
I end with a quote by Michelle Woo, editor for Lifehacker. “It can be more difficult to hang back and observe emotional situations than to try to solve problems for your kids on the spot. But what they need is consistent guidance, a place to explore their feelings, a model of kindness. What they probably don’t need is a referee monitoring every single play.” (Woo, 2018)
Fenton, Melissa. “Experts Say To Let Your Kids Argue, And This is Why.” Scary Mommy, n.d., http://www.scarymommy.com/research-says-to-let-your-kids-argue-because-it-makes-them-more-creative-thinking-adults/. Accessed Apr. 4, 2018.
Woo, Michelle. “Why You Should Let Kids Fight.” Lifehacker, Jan. 2, 2018, https://offspring.lifehacker.com/why-you-should-let-kids-fight-1821659356. Accessed Apr. 4, 2018.