When Milin and Jasmin fight there’s hair pulling, foot kicking, pinching, scratching, hitting, yanking – they don’t hold back. My instinct is to intervene and pull them apart. I don’t want them to get hurt, obviously. But there’s another part of me which urges me to keep my distance.
I’m not really sure what I’m meant to do when my children set upon each other with every intention of reclaiming the precious toy that’s just been taken from them. (This is the root cause of 99% of inter-sibling domestic violence in our house.) Perhaps I should stop them from fighting with each other – or perhaps I should let them work out for themselves that they’re big enough and strong enough to really hurt each other. And one day when they do, they won’t like it at all.
Milin and Jasmin adore each other. They are constantly looking out for each other, checking up on each other, playing together and plotting together. Only 18 months apart, they are best friends.
But, maybe because they’re so very close, they fight like only brother and sister can.
The fighting doesn’t happen often. Usually there’s little squabbles over prized possessions – these tiffs are pretty regular. But from time to time, they really set upon each other with sheer determination to reclaim the only motorized Thomas whose batteries still work, or the book Daddy was half way through reading to Milin before Jasmin decided to grab it and accidentally rip a page out…
At their young ages (3 and 1), they have no concept of their strength or their power. They have no understanding of their ability to cause pain. They aren’t practised fighters, they haven’t even really experienced pain themselves enough to have an awareness of what they are doing.
Their fights, I guess, are a very natural reaction, an instinct, an action launched into without much thought. I don’t believe their behaviour is learnt. They haven’t witnessed anything like this at home. I sure as hell hope Milin hasn’t seen anything like it at nursery. They’re simply fighting to keep their toys against the competition for them. And once that has been done, they can get on with the really important act of playing.
This new phase – which I know will become only more physical and will continue for years – has reminded me that there is no manual to raising your own children. Just as they are following their instincts, so much I.
So, do I separate them while they try to dig their nails into each other’s arms? Do I pull them apart so they don’t pull out chunks of skin from their beloved sibling’s tummy? Or do I leave them to it?
By leaving them to it, I trust the children to learn from their actions. I trust them to renegotiate boundaries, to learn empathy, sympathy, and restraint. Are they too young? At one and three I’m not sure.
I want Milin and Jasmin to learn boundaries through play. I want them to explore, to experience, to negotiate. I want them to feel pain, to know hurt, and also to know compassion and empathy.
There’s a delicate balance to be found when it comes to stepping between them. In my head, I’m the calm interventionist, only there when boundaries are close to being crossed. In reality I jump in faster than I would like – well before the littles have a chance to step back themselves. I would like to give them more space to learn through their actions. But I need to trust them first. I need to have faith that the goodness of their innocent hearts will stop them in time from crossing the line between play and pain. I need to give them the space to feel and learn. Why do I find it so hard? Because it means that I am letting them go in the world a little on their own without me.
It’s time for me to step back and watch them work out their own boundaries. It’s time for me to let them see and hear and do and hurt and feel. There will be tears, but there will also be lessons learnt through living.