The Art of War

From The Art of War, by Sun Tzu, written 600 BC:

(A quote for toddlers):”Speed is the essence of war. Take advantage of the enemy’s unpreparedness; travel by unexpected routes and strike him where he has taken no precautions.”

(A quote for parents):”Too frequent rewards indicate that the general is at the end of his resources; too frequent punishments that he is in acute distress.”

I wasn’t sure what to blog about today, but the answer presented itself at 5:45 this morning when my kids woke up one minute and started fighting the next. My sisters were teenagers when I was born, so I missed out on sibling rivalry, conflict resolution, and negotiation. I had NO idea what I was in for by having three children within 2 years. Despite one being 2 years older, some days they all seem to be at the same developmental level.

I learned quickly that when everyone around me is shrieking, it makes me shriek too. It’s also pretty clear that we all shriek more when we’re tired and hungry. I understand fighting over toys because toddlers might want the same thing at the same time and don’t have the life experience to solve that problem. I feel pretty confident in my negotiation skills in those moments. We set the kitchen timer or count to 10 while one kid plays, then pass the toy on and take turns. My kids actually do quite well once they know what to expect and that their turn is coming.

What I don’t understand, and which makes me regress into a temper tantrum every time, is the deliberate torment I see my kids perform on each other. Stealing each other’s loveys, or grabbing a toy away just to get a reaction, or hitting and biting each other. This photo is Mr. Twin’s latest bite mark on Miss Twin’s back. It’s the look of pleasure on their faces that gets me. They lose all empathy and take joy in hurting each other! It’s a confusing feeling to turn Mother Bear on my own child because he or she hurt another of my children. I’m still exploring the learning curve to find a good solution to this. We do timeouts, or take away favorite toys or privileges, and sometimes there have been spankings. We always make the offender say sorry, and ask how he or she would feel if the same thing had happened to him or her. I wonder if this is how evil dictators are bred, if they had no grownup to provide consequences and teach empathy when they hurt someone as a toddler.  

But, then, my kids surprise me. This morning, my 2-year-old twins were fighting over a toy and I heard 4-year-old Big Sister say to Mr. Twin, “Let’s go find you another toy just like that one.” Then, Miss Twin willingly handed over the coveted toy. Then, Big Sister said to me, “They were sad and mad, but look, they shared!” Then, I said, “Wow, I couldn’t have done that better myself and look! You didn’t even need me.”

My kids are learning life skills at age 2 that I didn’t learn until I was much older. There’s another stage of life when kids take pleasure in hurting each other, called middle school. Maybe this sibling battleground can serve a purpose to teach kids how to speak up for themselves, solve conflicts, and negotiate later in life. So then I think, if my kids survive each other, maybe they’ll do alright.

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Beth Louw
    Dec 03, 2011 @ 08:19:54

    Being one of 4 children (ranging in ages 10 years apart) lead to a lot of sibling rivalry in the Keith Plambeck family. Even though it never really ends in adulthood (yes 31 to 41 range), the rivalry becomes more humorous jokes and jabs; ways to say I love you, I worry about you and I know you so well. And for the past childhood experiences, they now give us great stories to laugh about.

    Such as:
    -The nightly Great Sock Wars between Greg and Chris
    -Brad slamming me up against the wall over eating the last Hostess he had been thinking about all day at school
    -Chris’s “flushing” of my bunny down the toilet weekly just to see my cry
    -Chris rearranging Brad’s perfectly placed figurines to see hims freak out

    The list could go on and on if all four of us sat down around Mom’s table for an hour and I am sure you could come up with many more just from being apart of our family for so long.

    Note: Chris is mentioned in 3 of the 4 examples that popped into my head…so it makes me laugh to see him get upset over the Tribes rivalry. He was such an instigator and still is.

    I hated the rivalry at the time but I love my brothers. I wouldn’t trade those ‘bad’ moments for not having them at all.

    Plus, I wouldn’t have my favorite Sister-in-Heart if I hadn’t suffered and survived Chris’s torture.


    • abbyplambeck
      Dec 08, 2011 @ 22:25:48

      Beth, thanks for taking time to write this comment! It’s so encouraging to see how close the Plam Clan is now, and I love hearing every one of your stories…especially about Chris! 🙂


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