I’ve been taking care of just my younger two for the last three weeks — G-, who is almost 14, and K-, who is 10 — and it’s been interesting to watch. Usually their bigger sister (who is 17) acts as the buffer, the peacemaker, the one who helps things move along smoothly when their rough edges would otherwise be causing contention. But with her gone, I’ve been impressed with how well the younger two have gotten along, still picking on and bugging each other, but far less than I expected.
Except sometimes. And I can’t quite put my finger on what causes it, but every so often they seemed to have a need to provoke the other, where it’d be snarky, teasing comment after snarky, mean-spirited comment, until the other reacted, and then, do-se-do, we’d go down the road of some serious bickering until one of them, usually the little one, would start screaming or burst into tears or throw something.
For his part, my son kept trying his technique of pointing out the perceived unfairness of the situation. “You’re going to let her get away with that? If I did that I’d be in tons of trouble!” and variations on that theme. When I reminded him that I’m the parent and that he’s the sibling, he just grunted in frustration. His attempts to Call In The Big Guns just didn’t work very well.
I definitely noticed that exhaustion played a big part in our collective dance, as did food. Give a child sugar, even as a special treat, and everything escalated quite quickly. Even healthy sweets like organic, fruit-juice sweetened popsicles. I know, “research shows” that sugar doesn’t affect children’s behavior, but I say those researchers need to have children of their own and they’d suddenly realize just how laughable that assertion is when stacked up against the hard reality of wild, hyper kids.
My standard approach to dealing with the bickering is to separate them. In my head it’s a boxing ring and I’m blowing a whistle for a 30-second break where they have to go back to their respective corners. While G- would love the chance to spar with his little sister, I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t end well, so instead I direct whichever of them seems to be more irritating at the moment to another area in the house, be it the living room couch, my bedroom (my bed is a favorite reading spot) or their own room.
Still, it’s a drag to watch two children that love each other, a brother who would go to the mat to defend his little sister against any threat and a little girl who is fiercely family-oriented and idolizes her brother (and, much more so, her big sister), argue. Is that just a given in sibling relationships?
I think so. In fact, my theory is that because their relationship is so safe, each of them has a safe space with which to try out different styles of interaction. Snarky? Sarcastic? Rude? Critical? “Yup, let’s see how those play out with someone fairly close to the age of my own friends, but who isn’t really going to get mad at me and isn’t going to tell their parents I’m mean.”
The clue is that they recover so quickly and five minutes after yelling at each other, they’ll be on the couch, sharing a pillow and reading books together. So it can’t be that bad. Can it?
My brother and I fought all the time. The dynamic could be teasing … or torture … or simply competition. I never got angrier than when he beat me at an Atari game (yes, I’m dating myself). We all remember what it was like to have a roommate and even the best of ’em got on your nerves now and then. Siblings are like permanent roommates all fighting for the same resources food, money and a parent’s attention. It’s a wonder they don’t kill each other!