Monday, July 9, 2012

Brother Practice

Not to toot my own horn...but I may be a genius.

My older two boys have been driving me CRAZY lately. They are just on each other all the time. Luke can't walk by Tobin without messing with him in some way. And Tobin screams if Luke so much as places a finger on him. I  try to keep my expectations appropriate - they are boys, and we're still in the training years. But the BICKERING. And unkindness is just unacceptable.

This weekend we were in Minnesota visiting family (more on that coming soon). As expected, Micah had a hard time at first. But I've learned a few things that help him: One of them is that when he first wakes up - even though he'll want to get up and go play with cousins or see everyone else we're staying with - I need to make him let me hold him and connect with him FIRST. He fights me hard ("I PLAY!!!!"), but eventually calms down and lets me connect (tickling, eye contact, lots of talking about how I'm his mommy, Matt is his daddy, we will never leave him, etc.) After I released him, I apologized to Matt (who was making a valiant effort at getting some more sleep during my forced connection time), and said that even though it's hard, it's so necessary for Micah... he needs the reminder of our relationship, especially in unfamiliar circumstances.

So all of that was rolling around in my mind, at the same time the older two were doing their thing. Their bickering brought to mind something my (super sweet) mother-in-law said a few months ago. As we were rearranging car seats in her van when Micah started going out to spend the night with her (and all the other cousins), she said, "I don't like for Luke & Tobin to be next to each other." I totally knew why she said it, and agreed that they'd probably do better with Anna in between them. The last time they were together in the back seat of my van, I ended up having quite a mom-fail, yelling at them, and then putting their voices on time out (it didn't work.)

But it's stuck with me. I want them to be able to sit next to each other (especially when they're with someone else!) without it being disastrous. And I don't think that's too high of an expectation.

So as I thought about how I have to take the time to connect with Micah and remind him of our relationship, and I thought about my older two boys' lack of harmony in their relationship, I had what I think may be a moment of genius.

Consequences and me constantly reminding them of the need for kind words... Use you words... keep your hands to yourself please... I'm the mom, you be the brother... I'M STANDING RIGHT HERE FOR CRYING OUT LOUD, IF HE NEEDS TO BE BOSSED AROUND, I'LL DO THE BOSSING... are not working. But because of their age difference, they really have almost no connection, especially now that Micah is home, and Tobin has a playmate his age.

ENTER: Brother practice

I decided to take this next month to help them work on their friendship. Not as a consequence (I have tried to have them do chores for every act of unkindness, but frankly, I don't have enough chores for that.) As a regular part of their day. So I told Luke that I had a genius idea, and that in addition to his daily basketball practice, and 3x/week saxophone practice (which hasn't happened ANY times a week so far this summer...), I am having them do brother practice. He was less than thrilled.

Tobin, on the other hand? Even though he certainly slings his fair share of the nasties, he idolizes his brother. So all day today he told me, "I just can't wait for brother practice!"

And I was very proud of Luke. He came up with an idea on his own of what they could do (build Legos), and was very kind and helpful to Tobin (and let Tobin actually participate rather than convincing him that his job is to watch Luke do everything, which isn't the norm.)


Here's what we're trying:
Brother Practice = 20 minutes doing an activity they agree on together (they could play a game, do something outside, whatever they want, as long as both parties agree.) They have to speak kindly to one another, work out any disagreements together without coming to me, and if they don't, then the timer starts over so they can work on it until they get it.

I also decided we'd make this the month of brotherly love, so we're going to memorize some verses along those lines as well. We started today with Romans 12:10, which Luke memorized on the spot and Tobin knows 3 words of... but we'll keep working. (In case you're wondering: "Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; Give preference to one another in honor." We talked about how being devoted means sticking with our brother, that you're on his side.)

Today it went SWIMMINGLY. As they got started, Luke even asked me if they had to stop at 20 minutes, or if they could keep going as long as they wanted to (Honey, you guys keep going as long as you want to!) Tobin was on cloud nine, he just LOVED getting to build Legos with his brother.)

I am no fool: I am sure that we will hit harder times with this. Especially since I'm pretty sure at least part of Luke's compliance was that because he spent almost every free moment this weekend playing video games with his cousin, that we were having a media free day today, at least as far as video games were concerned. So it's not like he had anything better to do. And I don't expect this will be a requirement every day, forever. But we're going to make it a daily practice (when possible) for this month, and see how spending time doing things they enjoy together will build a foundation of relationship for them.

Two little postscripts...

First, you may be wondering where my youngest fits in this? Neither of them really have an issue with him. Not that we don't have our troubles or skirmishes (especially between T & M), but for the most part, Luke finds kindness to Micah a lot easier. And Tobin and Micah spend way more time having adventures together than they do fighting (pray that lasts!) They spent hours earlier today happily playing puppies together.

SO... Ideally, brother practice would happen during Micah's nap. That wasn't possible today (because T was extra whiney today, so I made him have a rest time as well. So I strapped Micah into his booster at the table and gave him different table toys to play with.
In other news, while he still is super hit or miss at identifying colors (this week we're back to everything being GREEN! For the last few weeks, it was purple.) BUT he did show me with the toy above that he can now match up yellow with yellow etc. YIPPEE!! I was beginning to wonder if he was colorblind.

Secondly, I'm guessing that at least some of you who are reading are thinking, "You have to make your kids practice being nice to each other??" YES. I do. And I think it's going to help. Don't judge!

Capture Gratitude coming tomorrow, as well as a photo dump from Independence day and our time in the twin cities... I took a TON of pictures this weekend, and I hadn't uploaded my 7/4 pics yet, so it's taking FOREVER.