[This letter has been condensed -- Ed.]
I have an 8 year old son, and 3 year old daughter. Both children are considered by others (teachers included) to be very well-behaved and polite. My daughter is a bit more active than my son was at 3, and doesn't listen quite as well to directions and house rules. However, she is definitely age-appropriate. I know my son gets frustrated with my daughter at times. When the kids aren't getting along, I try to address each of their concerns, but often don't know who started what, and sometimes they both simply state that they are just playing.
The other day we were out at a restaurant and the two children were seated next to each other. The younger child kept poking the older under the table. The older child drew a picture on a napkin. The picture contained a stick figure of my daughter lying on the ground with crosses as eyes (her name was written above the figure), and there was another stick figure of a boy holding a gun. Dotted lines were coming out of the gun and hitting the stick figure. It was when we saw the completed art work that we understood what was going on (the poking was under the table). When my son was questioned about the picture, he stated that it wasn't a gun but a 'poking machine.' I didn't quite believe his answer.
We have limited video games and TV, two hours per week total). We have some Lego Wii games that are a bit more on the shooting theme than I thought they should be when I purchased them (Star Wars).
Our personal approach to misbehaivor is a progression from re-direction, to tim-outs, to consequences with age. However, we aren't certain how to address this picture with our son. I did tell him that I was disappointed about the picture and talked with him about how important siblings are to each other, and have a zero tolerance policy about teasing/name calling. I also want to cut out the video games.
My question is whether the drawing is a normal 8 year old behavior, or should we be concerned? I didn't like the lie about the poking machine, but didn't know quite how to address that one either. Any advice?
From: Curious, Lancaster, PA
Anger and frustration are normal feelings for sibs to have toward each other, especially for an older to feel toward a much younger. It doesn't mean he doesn't love her! It means he's most likely responding to a typical 3-year-old who, let's be honest, does not have many boundaries. As an 8-year-old, he is typically at a stage where he sees the world as black or white. If he sees her behavior as unfair, in his eyes, It's really unfair.
So what does this mean in terms of your response?
First of all, it seems like you are parents who are pretty much on top of things so it sounds like it might be safe to assume that this is the first time he's expressed anger so tinged with violence.
I'd go back at this with him: "Remember the other day, when we were at the restaurant? I've been thinking about it. I know that sometimes your sister can be a pain in the neck. She's just a little girl, and she doesn't understand that she's being annoying. I can understand that you might feel frustrated some times."
He'll probably find it a relief to have you validate h is feelings, and say something simple, like, "Yeah....."
"I just want you to know, it's OK to have those feelings. You're entitled to how you feel, and you can tell us any time you're feeling angry or frustrated. That's OK, that won't make us angry. What's not OK is being mean to your sister. What made me angry that day was how you chose to express your anger."
I wouldn't over-do this conversation. (Don't get into a discussion about whether he was lying about the poking machine.) Just get the message out that you can tolerate his frustration. Period.
In the meantime, pay attention to his artwork and keep an eye out for behavior that looks violent. If you see more, and especially if you see a pattern, get a professional consultation.
I wouldn't eliminate the video games; that can have the opposite effect of making them even more desirable. Instead, play together. That way you can monitor his play and help him interpret whatever violence there is. (I do recommend setting a limit on how much time is spent playing the games, and when they can be played. Not before bed would be a good rule. I would even vote for not on a school night.) Violence is a huge part of the popular culture these days. Banning it doesn't give kids the coping skills they need to keep it in perspective.
The author is solely responsible for the content.