Leave them to it

Our two-year-old, boisterous ball of boyness is really going through this trying stage of life. My husband, P and I are in constant emergency meetings, trying to figure out how to best approach R’s new behaviours. Often, we think we’ve cracked it, only to find seconds later, that we have about as much control over his big-little-feelings, as he does.

One of our main behaviour issues recently, has been his some-what aggressive behaviour towards other kids. All kids. Apart from one; his baby brother, S.

He would head butt, shove, hit, kick or pinch, which very rarely made the other kid upset… because he’s not very strong – but it’s the principal of the situation. Each time we witnessed him behaving this way, we would whisk him away and explain why it wasn’t safe for him to carry on playing.

No matter how many times we did this, nothing would change. He wasn’t learning from his mistakes. He wasn’t understanding that if he tried to hurt someone, then his play time would stop. We tried the empathy angle, but I guess it’s unrealistic to expect a two-year-old to understand other people’s feelings when he’s only just figuring out his own.

Then we went to stay at my brother, B’s house for a few nights. He has a son a similar age, C, so we were a little nervous about them spending so much time together and the potential of a LOT of scraps. We were right. There was an enormous amount of scraps, tussles and scuffles – but we didn’t have to be nervous about it.

Firstly, I’m lucky to have my brother. We can let our kids learn and grow together in a safe and trusting space, without having to guess how the other parent is feeling and without judgement. He’s honestly one of my best “mum friends”.

Secondly, C is no wallflower. When R would give him a good old bop on the face, C would pick up his toy bus and lob it back at his cousin’s head. Tit for Tat.

Of course, at the start of our time together, all four parents (and two babies) were sat around the two toddlers giving relentless advice, commands and reprimands, because we were all learning. But, when it became clear that we were making things more chaotic and stressful, Patrick suggested that we leave them to it.

I immediately called him insane. How could we leave them to it? They would just clatter each other and end up hating each other forever. To not intervene would be irresponsible and dangerous. They’re only two years old!

However, B and his wife seemed to be up for the experiment, so I was outnumbered.

We left the room and decided to watch the boys on the monitor – just in case.

And a miraculous thing happened. R, who is a very affectionate boy, gave C a hug. C, who has never been a fan of physical affection, wriggled away from the embrace and continued playing cars. R then shoved C and stole his car. C responded by taking the car back and giving him a smack on the arm. Both boys then carried on playing as if none of that had happened. This pattern happened a few times: An attempt at affection, followed by rejection and then a smacky, thumpy, kicky rumble, finishing with happy play. Eventually R stopped trying to cuddle C, and they were able to play with and alongside each other for a good fifteen minutes!

It took all I had to stop myself getting involved, but I was glad I didn’t abandon the experiment.

We learnt that taking a step back allowed them to find their own balance.

P and I learnt that R was responding to rejection with violence. We recalled a few other recent incidents where he had started a fight, and each one began with him trying to hug the other kid. Our little S is never on the receiving end of a bop from his big brother because he loves the kisses and cuddles, and never rejects them.

B and I learnt that our two boys are a good match for each other, and no matter how many arguments, fights or disagreements they have through their lives, they’ll always be friends – and they would rather we all left them alone to figure life out together.

It was good to see that R seemed to have a reason for lashing out at other kids, but a little sad that it was because he felt rejected by them. We are now trying to teach him to ask for a hug, and to accept it when a hug is not wanted… never too early to teach consent.

And of course, if he’s had a day of no hugs, and he’s in need – there’s always baby bro, ready and waiting.

Published by RaisingBoys

I’m Kelly. I’m 34 and I am a primary school teacher (when I’m not mumming). I live in a thin, tall house with my thinnish, quite tall husband and two beautiful boys. I love writing, and am trying to keep it up so I can keep a piece of me.

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