The Bakersfield Californian
ADVICE WITH ATTITUDE & A GROUNDED
Hi, Carolyn: I have three boys close in age — 9, 7 and 5. The oldest two have recently gotten very competitive in everything they do, from sports and art to flying paper airplanes and who can get dressed the fastest [eye roll].
I’ve read “Siblings Without Rivalry,” and my husband and I are very careful not to label the boys or make things a competition. Still it persists. They’ve even started to “compete” to be friends with our neighbors. It breaks my heart, and I dread how it will escalate in the teenage years when it comes to tryouts, romantic interests, college, etc. UGH. Any words of advice?
On a related note, I also struggle with how to foster their independent interests while also not pigeonholing them. For instance, my middle son is really into Lego and my oldest is so-so about it, but I gave them all Lego sets for Christmas because I don’t want to label one as Into Lego and the other as Not Into Lego, because they’re young and I know their interests will evolve. This is hard. — Struggling
Dear Struggling: It is hard, yes — but I have a hunch you’re making it harder.
Your Lego-set decision, just for example, might have sent the message to your boys that you see them all as the same, which escalates rivalry — or, further, that being into Lego is the Right Thing, in your eyes, therefore the oldest is Wrong to be just soso about it.
I say this not to nitpick or torment, but to illustrate that contorting yourself to solve one problem can result in new problems you didn’t anticipate.
Give Lego to the Lego-phile. Give something of equivalent wow- and dollar-value to each of the others. If interests shift, shop next time accordingly. If you misfire on a
SET OF VALUES
gift, regroup and try again later.
But more generally: Breathe. See this as natural. Resist the urge to do preemptive contortions to get everything right. I relied on the work of Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish myself, heavily — but it’s also natural to trust yourselves a bit more than you’re doing now.
And to see and love your boys as individuals, which is not only the most fundamental truth about them, but also Faber-andMazlish-approved. Commit to seeing your boys and treating them as separate people. Competition is how they try to distinguish themselves from each other and get seen, so anticipate that by seeing them as equally worthy but entirely distinct. Listen to their nuances and feed their individual interests. Just be mindful of reflecting their enthusiasm vs. exceeding it, lest they start to live through and define themselves by your excitement and expectations.
Be sure to give them a place to be competitive in a healthy way, too, with others outside the family, if you haven’t already. Reindeer games are inevitable. Kept in proportion and self-driven, competition (in sports, esports, performing arts, entrepreneurship, whatever they gravitate to) is educational, character-building and fun. (Did I mention self-driven?)
There’s an ulterior motive here, too: One of the most powerful things you can do for your kids is encourage them — gently, patiently, over time — to root for each other as they compete with somebody else.
Last thing: Never, ever, ever discourage competitive speed-dressing. A way to get out the door faster is a tool you will never not need.