Rock 'em, Sock 'em Boys

Dear Parentworks, 

What's with boys and all the fighting, kicking, hitting, yelling and running around. I grew up with a family of all girls and I am simply going nuts! My 6 and 10 year old boys are at it all the time. It's exhausting trying to break them up all day long and quiet them down. I don't know what to do.

- Tired of the Tension

Dear Tired,

Most young male mammals enjoy (as in Really have fun!) practicing aggression-like behaviors. This practicing includes those fine lines between pain vs. pleasure, blowing off steam vs. anger, dominance vs. submissiveness. Many of these skills are even practices in today's human (though dog eat dog) corporate world. While parents have all tried in recent decades to employ non-sexist rules to our children there just really is a different between "boy energy"* and "girl energy"* - these have to do with hormones and muscle/motor skill development among other things. So as a mom who heralds from an all girl growing up experience, you may not have been exposed to the normal, healthy, typical energy your boys may be exhibiting. If there are adult males in your life, ask them what they think of your boy's behavior to get a read on what's happening from their perspective.

This said, as a parent, you still need to evaluate your sons' behavior on an ongoing basis to determine if they are just playing or really hurting one another. Letting them know that a rule in your family - something along the lines of "As long as something is fun for everyone (and you're not breaking things) then it's fun and ok but if one of you isn't having fun anymore and asks to stop - you must stop now." Whatever level of energy inside your home you are comfortable with should guide you in your limits, just be sure you are clear about them and that the boys understand. Part of growing up is learning situational appropriateness, so what they can do in the kitchen are not the same activities allowed in a completely empty (and safe playroom) or outdoors. You set your standards of what you believe is important for those safety limits. If you become worried that things may be getting out of hand with them, just pop into the room and ask "Are you both ok with how things are going?" - once reassured, you can return to your far end of the house to continue whatever you are doing that distracts you from the fear that it sounds as though they are tearing each other apart. They are still relatively young and this type of freedom comes with great responsibility and your boys should know that you are trusting them to manage their energies enough that they aren't hurting one another. If someone continually ends up getting hurt then all this freedom must be adjusted - backed way down for shorter periods of time until they are able to play together safely unsupervised. Once they are successful, then they can be gradually given longer times with the higher energy play.

Making sure you have physical activities available for them to play outside is very important. You mention you want to "quiet them down", for some kids - especially at this age, quiet is just not their thing for long periods of the day. By allowing them to use "outside voices", energy and activities they get the chance to blow off excess large muscle motor skills instead of allowing it to build up day after day.

It is important for siblings to be allowed to "work out" their own relationship, their own rules for games (your safety rule comes first), and their own roles. If parents are always intervening to stop them, referee them, choose who's right and wrong it's sets up the "mom always loved you best" rivalry scenarios that some siblings never outgrow.

To help provide them with appropriate coping skills and for you to clarify more for yourself about how much of their behavior is sibling rivalry or just fun, I suggest two very good books from the same authors: "How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and How to Listen So Kids Will Talk" and "Siblings Without Rivalry" are by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish (both available through the Books section of Parentworks.com as a direct link to Amazon.com). You can use these books can to assisting them with tools for using their words rather than fists if things get heated which will prove crucial for their future successful relationships. Letting your children know that all feelings are ok - but what we are allowed to do about what we feel is a very different matter. By providing a safe environment to express their feelings and for you to begin clarifying for yourself about sibling rivalry, you will be able stay ahead of the game which will go a long way in keeping the peace in your home.