Saturday, March 15, 2014

When the Older One Doesn't Want to Be Associated with the Younger One

We're in a difficult phase these days with our two younger sons. For seven years now, I've had one big boy and two "little" boys. That's just how it felt. I know I've been guilty of lumping the two younger ones together. Who wouldn't? They're just two years apart and, for the most part, have gotten along splendidly.

But something shifted a few months after my middle son turned nine. He began to attempt to individuate himself from his little brother. It started subtly. It bothered him when the waiter brought both Trevor and Sean the Styrofoam kid cups. He wanted the grown-up glass. He didn't want to order from the kid's menu, insisting he's not a kid anymore. He began to hang out in his older brother's room more often, watching programs Bryce is allowed to watch but Trevor is not (things like South Park and Family Guy).

Then he began to distance himself from Sean by refusing to share things in common. He didn't want to share the same toothpaste tube. He threw a fit if he discovered that Sean happened to select the same color of socks he was wearing. He refused to allow him to make the same Rainbow Loom bracelets he made. He didn't want Sean playing the same video games. He complained about having to take the same bus and tried to be late so that I would have to drive him to school separately.

It has since morphed into something far more painful. He is often outright rude to Sean, a guy who has the sweetest disposition I've ever known. He has taken to making fun of him, something we simply will not allow. We are in daily battles to keep their interactions respectful and friendly.

The thing which bothers me most is watching Sean suffer through what is clearly just a stage of growth for Trevor. Sean has internalized it and taken to thinking his brother doesn't like him anymore. We try to explain to Sean that Trevor is merely asserting himself as a bigger kid than he was before and that it is just the age he is trying to distance himself from rather than the person, but, alas, it still feels like the person is being attacked. It grieves us to see Sean hurting like this.

After giving it much thought and discussion, we attempted to curb the negativity by upping Trevor's responsibilities in exchange for a half an hour more time at bedtime. His 8 o'clock bedtime has long been a source of contention for Trevor as he insists that none of his classmates have to go to bed so early. As long as he follows through on the few additional chores, he is allowed to stay up until 8:30, with the caveat that the bedtime will go back to 8 p.m. if he cannot treat his brother with respect. Sadly, he's lost the extra half hour quite a few times.

Thursday night, I thought that rather than punishing the bad behavior, I would try to encourage the good behavior, so I informed them (as they both went to bed at 7:30 because of the afternoon's endless squabbling) that I would be taking boys who treat the other one with kindness and respect out for an ice cream Friday night.  It did help. They were bending over backwards to be nice to one another for a day. Whether this will help when a shake is not in the picture remains to be seen.

We have an honors banquet coming up next week for Bryce. He is being honored for being one of the top ranked students in his senior class. Trevor will be going to his friend Jonas' house and Sean will go to his friend Carter's house. I'm grateful for the two families who are willing to take them because goodness knows they would have been horrible at one house together.

It can't hurt for them to have their own space and time (although we still have to force them to share a room). Indeed, I'm kind of relieved that Sean has decided he doesn't want to go to CBLI, our annual Bible camp, this summer (I think he is fearful he will get another awful, life-threatening eye infection like last year - click here for the horrifying photos). He wants to spend the week with Grandma and she is willing to have him (he's the easiest one of the bunch). So Trevor and I will travel to Wisconsin and share the 9 day encampment together. He is excited about it because, for the first time, I am telling him he will be able to go off on his own during the afternoon free times. In the past, I've always accompanied the boys (they were 6 and 8 last summer) for whatever they wanted to do during free time. I'm excited because I'll actually have the free time to myself to nap, read, write or join the band, if I so desire. A win-win for everyone.

But, I'm not so sure we are out of the woods on this issue. I think it is certainly a stage we're going to have to get through. Thankfully, I know it is just a stage. This too shall pass. I'm very hopeful that they will go back to being good friends once Bryce heads off to college and Trevor establishes himself as the older of the two. That is what I want for them - a good friendship between brothers. After all, "a brother is born for adversity." (Prov. 17:17) The whole reason we had Sean and moved to this house was to give Trevor a closer sibling than his much bigger brother (an 8 year gap). Today, he cannot seem to recognize his blessings, but I hope he will be able to see them in the future.

How about you? Have you dealt successfully with this issue? What things did you try to help the older sibling navigate the new waters of pre-adolescence without wounding the younger sibling? Goodness knows, I'll take all the parenting advice I can get!


Jennifer Atkinson said...

What a frustrating time! We had some serious sibling issues with daughter 2 and daughter 3. They are 4 years apart but 3 years apart in school. Somewhere around 4th grade/7th grade, the two of them got *really* mean with each other. Now, 5 years later, the two of them are best friends. Since reading your post, I was trying to figure out how we got from Point A to Point B. I think separate activities are key and your plans for summer vacation sound fantastic. I'd like to talk more about this....

Sheila said...

No advice for you, as my kids are much younger. We're dealing with sibling issues but they're of the pestering/not sharing variety.

You have my sympathy instead, and I hope it's a short stage, for everyone's sake.

Wendy said...

Jen and Sheila - thanks for the encouragement. I, too, am hoping it is a short stage.