Mama Drama: Brotherly Love and Playgroup Problems
Dear Mama Drama:
I have three sons, ages 7, 4, and 2. Everyday after picking up my oldest son from school, within five minutes either the seven year old or four year old is crying. The struggles are often related to rude behavior and hitting. The oldest wants time to himself at this time of day and the younger brothers have been eagerly awaiting his return. The reconnection between the oldest and youngest is a love fest, but the middle and oldest set each other off. It seems like this should be a fun and exciting part of our day, but it quickly deteriorates into frustration for all of us.
~Hoping for a peaceful ride home
Kids put out a ton of energy being at school all day and even though they may be running around, they are often exhausted emotionally and physically. Re-entering into their families low on energy can often lead to irritability and frustration.
Re-engaging with younger brothers after being with same age peers all day can be a challenge for older siblings. The older brother often struggles to remember that the younger brothers don’t have the same skills as his peers. He may have unrealistic expectations that lead to frustration for everyone. His low energy may prevent him from handling the situation with compassion and understanding.
From the perspective of the middle brother, he has been the big brother all day so giving that up when the bigger brother returns may be difficult for him. Aggression may be his outlet as he doesn’t have the language to conceptualize what he is experiencing. It may be even more difficult for him given the loving interactions the two other brothers demonstrate.
Reflecting with each child about how they perceive the after school experience is the first step. Understanding their thinking, helping them to understand the perspective of the other brother, and coming up with ideas for how they can handle that time of day is a good place to start. They may need more structure for this re-entry phase such as a secret brothers only handshake or hug ritual, a catch and release connection (meaning a quick hello, then let big brother be on his own for a few minutes), or a quiet time in the car or at home where everyone takes a break to rest or read. Having snacks and drinks available for the ride home gives them something to do and a chance to re-fuel without waiting too long.
Part of your problem solving should also involve helping them recognize their own internal cues of tiredness and frustration and how to read and respond to the non-verbal signals and body language of each other. This will take lots of time and practice, but you can help them by describing what you observe in them and explaining how you handle such feelings. Teaching them how to tune in to their own needs and read the signals from each other is a great life skill to start now.
Dear Mama Drama,
One of the children in our playgroup has a problem with hitting, and often uses my child as a target. (They are both approximately 3.5 years old.) The mother knows it happens and tries to discipline her child, but to no avail. It’s gotten to the point where my child doesn’t like playing with the hitter and is afraid. My child has tried telling the other child that kids won’t want to play with people who hit, but that doesn’t seem to be working either. Because the child’s behavior isn’t changing, which would be the best route to take: avoid playing with this person altogether, or keep playing and hope for the best?
Logistically, it would be a challenge to not see this child, and we love our playgroup, but I hate putting my child in harm’s way (literally!).
~Hit me with your best shot
Dear Hit me:
Hoping for the best without changing the interventions will lead to more of the same behavior. It is apparent that both the child and mother are struggling with the skills to handle this situation. My guess is that they are as frustrated with the problems as you are. If these relationships are important enough for you to continue in this playgroup, I suggest a direct conversation with this mom.
With compassion you can share how you have noticed her struggles in handling the hitting behavior of her child. You can also tell her how it is impacting your child’s feeling toward hers and that this is concerning to you. Let her know how important your relationship is and that you would like to support her in helping her child so that your relationship, and that of your children, can continue to be positive and successful.
For ideas on how she can support her daughter in using more appropriate social skills during your playgroup, you can refer her to last week’s Mama Drama column on Playtime Struggles. They may also need more direct support from a family behavior consultant or counselor.
If she is receptive and willing to work on this issue, then continuing may be a good idea. If she is not, you may need to take steps to limit or avoid contact with her and her child.