“do your boys always play so well?”

January 10, 2011


that was the question the electrician asked after having spent a week at our house fixing the electrics.

“pretty much” I replied.

i could go on about how as a parent educator i would look like a goose if my kids were ratbags, but I save that for another time.

“makes me wonder what i’m doing wrong” he said.

i console him with “they are all boys, they have the same energy”. he has two boys and two girls in an alternate array.

we are frequently asked why our kids get on so well with each other. they are close, there is four years difference between the eldest and youngest.

but the fact is, there is a lot of work and psychology behind promoting good sibling relationships…

1. our house is a ‘no put-down zone’. no name calling or teasing.

2. as the kids have grown older i have to add a ‘no ner-ner zone’. you know how kids copy each other to be annoying, or reply with ner-ner-ner-ner in an annoying tone? i’ve banned it.

3. the tone of your voice is important when you speak to each other. i often have to deconstruct the conversations the kids have with each other, with them, to help them understand their misunderstandings. our house is small and my ears are big.

4. we frequently remind the boys that friends may come and go but brothers are forever.

5. toys given at Christmas are for sharing.

6. we try to be good role models.

7. we have a family meeting once per week.

9. we insist on eating together at the table for dinner, no distractions, and everyone has a turn to talk about their day.

10. we try to give each of the boys their one-on-one time with mum or dad.

11. we never compare the kids. we talk about their unique abilities but also leave it open for them to change and develop other abilities. in other words, no pigeon-holing. i grew up with one of my brothers being the sporty and smart one. he was incredibly intelligent and very good at sport. but it was done in a way that the rest of us couldn’t move into sporty or smart territory.

12. we focus on the process. we don’t say “good boy”, that encourages sibling rivalry and the kids become praise junkies. we tell the kids what they are doing well, and what we appreciated about how they did it. good constructive feedback for everyone to hear.

13. as the boys are getting older, i encourage problem solving (courtesy of the Second Step programme). what’s the problem? what are all of the possible solutions to the problem? choose one solution. is it safe and fair? how will others feel about it? will it work? if it didn’t work, try another solution.

14. home is an emotionally safe place to be.

i was talking about this topic with our friend Jeannie when she last visited. she said that it’s because i just let the kids play unhindered. if they make a mess, they make a mess. if they have had a big play session with one toy, it’s left out so they can continue their play the next day, it doesn’t matter where it’s located.

i let them play unhindered because if they are playing with each other they are not wanting to play with me. when i was a kid i liked being a kid, now i’m an adult i like being an adult. if one of the kids is out of sorts with his brothers, i don’t offer to play with him, i offer to read with him. kids are the experts at play, they should be playing with other kids. if the kids get off track (danger, fighting, dominance, etc) in their play, i point them in the right direction, stay for a while if i need to, and then leave them to it.

all of the Waldorf books i have been reading lately talk about the value of parents playing with kids. there is only value in adults playing with kids if the adult can allow the child to direct the play, and only if it is fun. it’s not constructive play if the adult wants to be the boss and tell the child how to do everything. it’s not constructive play if it becomes a competition, a battle of wills, or a chance to teach the child some important lesson about life in an overt way.

i set the rules of engagement and the boys engage in play.

there is a down-side to having good sibling relationships. the boys are still awake in their beds talking and laughing with each other most nights until 11pm, or later. they don’t like to interrupt their play to stop and eat or bathe. they squeeze every last minute out of the day in the pursuit of play to the detriment of homework. and they miss each other terribly when one is away at a friend’s house. we accept these negatives with patience and a smile.

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About hakea

groupworker, parent educator, therapist, mother of three boys.

View all posts by hakea


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9 Comments on ““do your boys always play so well?””

  1. kloppenmum Says:

    Absolutely. Completely. Couldn’t have put it better myself.

    We often get asked the same question, and looking through your list – we have the same underlying values and guidelines in our house. The only difference I could spot is that our three are spread out over seven and a half years.


  2. kloppenmum Says:

    Thanks for asking: we had a great holiday, in the most part. But we’re only pretending to be back as the weather has somewhat packed up.
    I must say, I really, really liked this post of yours.


    • hakea Says:

      Yeah, we’ve had weather extremes. Most of Queensland is under water at the moment.

      Thanks, I’ve got a fair bit of this sort of stuff as I run parenting workshops for my work. Always trying to find easy and practical ways to communicate parenting strategies. I’ll get it all on this blog eventually. Especially the attachment theory, I love attachment theory.


  3. kloppenmum Says:

    The pictures of the weather in Queensland look scary. Not very summery – that’s for sure. I am also in love with attachment theory, but only as a starting point. Look forward to comparing notes.


  4. darkstarburning Says:

    *standing applause for the excellent rules*
    The ner-ner thing drives me absolutely up the wall…


    • hakea Says:

      I’m so glad others understood what ner-ner meant. I worried that it was only peculiar to my kids, and then I remembered my brothers and I doing it to each other, so then I worried that it was hereditary. Glad to hear that the ner-ner thing is world-wide!


  5. yelenam Says:

    I only have one child, but your excellent rules are much needed in my household. Thanks for this great list!


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