Bickering writ small: he screams, she gives in

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  October 4, 2012 06:00 AM

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Dear Barbara,
I have a question about the dynamics between my son (4 1/2) and daughter (2) and myself. My son is quiet and slow to warm up with people outside the house, but with me (and nobody else, not even my husband) at home he sometimes blows up screaming and crying when he is frustrated about very small issues. I respond to this by helping him articulate that he's frustrated, telling him this behavior isn't acceptable and that it won't help him get what he wants, and then trying to help him calm down (deep breaths, etc). If he's still freaking out, I send him to his room and tell him to come out again when he's able to have better behavior. I do NOT give in to him, even if it's a reasonable request, until he calms down, I require that he ask me in a polite tone of voice.

In general I feel like my approach is helping... the freak-outs have been fewer and less intense lately, and I haven't had to send him to his room in a while. (He also just started Pre-K, and I think some of the behavior was because he was worried about starting school. Now he's settled in and liking school, he's better.) HOWEVER, I've been noticing that lately his sister sometimes just gives him what he wants as soon as he starts to cry.

For example, they were sharing crayons this morning, and she was using the purple crayon. He wanted the purple crayon. She said no. He screamed, and she threw the crayon at him. He immediately stopped screaming and started coloring with the purple, and she found another color.

I don't want to micromanage the way they interact, I think they need to learn how to do it themselves. But I'm concerned that she is helping to reinforce his idea that screaming/crying is a good way to get what he wants. She's only 2, so I can't really explain to her that she shouldn't give in.

I'd love any thoughts or suggestions you have, Barbara.

Thanks so much,
From: Cfran, Cambridge, MA


Hi CFran,

I agree that you don't want to micromanage their relationship. On the other hand, she's only 2, and he's on his way to bullying her.

Your role is to hover so that you can model appropriate behavior for both of them and intervene when necessary. For instance, all day long, look for times when you can talk about having turns, so that she can learn to say to him, "Your turn is next." When they are playing together, anticipate his frustration: "Why don't you ask your sister when you can have a turn with the purple crayon?" Set up an egg timer when they are coloring, or find some other similar strategy.

It wouldn't be appropriate and it isn't possible to intervene in every instance but safety is important here. You're also establishing the ground rules for handling sibling bickering. At some point, instead of screaming, he could smack her, and the crayon she throws could hit him in the eye.

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1 comments so far...
  1. My sister did this as a kid. If she didn't get her way, she'd cry/scream/endless tantrum. Usually, it was over something silly, like who got the red cup or the "better" cookie, so my parents would give in to her. Why spend two hours dealing with an extreme tantrum when it's easier to just switch the girls' cups, right?

    Now she's an adult. Guess what happens when she doesn't get her way?

    Nip this completely in the bud by not allowing your son to get what he wants when he throws a tantrum. Even if it's something he legitimately wants (ie: she stole his not-share toy), he does not get it back unless he handles it in a polite and reasonable manner.

    His sister, teachers, friends, significant others, and college roommates thank you from the future.

    Posted by AP October 4, 12 11:58 AM
 
1 comments so far...
  1. My sister did this as a kid. If she didn't get her way, she'd cry/scream/endless tantrum. Usually, it was over something silly, like who got the red cup or the "better" cookie, so my parents would give in to her. Why spend two hours dealing with an extreme tantrum when it's easier to just switch the girls' cups, right?

    Now she's an adult. Guess what happens when she doesn't get her way?

    Nip this completely in the bud by not allowing your son to get what he wants when he throws a tantrum. Even if it's something he legitimately wants (ie: she stole his not-share toy), he does not get it back unless he handles it in a polite and reasonable manner.

    His sister, teachers, friends, significant others, and college roommates thank you from the future.

    Posted by AP October 4, 12 11:58 AM
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About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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