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Conflict prevention for brothers

We were at an impasse, the kids and I.

I wanted to give them a gift, an electronic gift that was too expensive to buy two of. I wanted them to share it, since no one needs to be plugged in all the time, and I knew they’d each get a different kind of good out of it. I’d bought the device, and had it in my closet, but I knew I needed to talk to them about it before I gave it to them and asked them to share. When I told them I was giving it to them, they did not react the way I’d thought they would. The older one sighed and teared up, and the younger one said, “Yay!” but then looked at his older brother and looked sober.

“Mom, I don’t want to have to share!” the older one wailed. “We’ll just fight over who gets to use it!”

The little one confirmed. “Mom, we’ll just fight over who gets to use it and then you’ll have to take it away and nobody will get to use it!”

Wow. My kids were turning down a gadget they’d been playing with every time we passed one in a store. And all because they didn’t think they could stop fighting over which one of them played with it.

I was angry, and frustrated, and felt taken advantage of. But then I realized that it wasn’t that they wanted to fight over it. They just didn’t know that there was a way to make it so they didn’t need to fight over it without anyone being the victim.

“Why don’t we just set up a system that tells us when each of you gets to play with it so you don’t fight?” I asked. They looked at me. “Not a schedule, but a mechanism that tells us who gets to decide if they want to play with it or let the other one play with it.”

I explained how people or groups want the same thing all the time, so instead of fighting about it every time they just make a rule to know who gets it when. The same way their dad and I did when we decided who had them for Christmas and Thanksgiving every year. The same way companies make contracts. The same way computers decide which processes go in which order. Make a rule about who gets first choice, and then no one has to fight.

They seemed interested (and a little relieved), so I told them the kinds of things we could use as our mechanism, and they decided to use evens and odds, with evens for the boy born on an even day of the month and odds for the boy born on an odd day of the month.

So I gave them the device. They set it up together, and they both promised not to download anything that cost money without asking me first. The older one helped the younger one download the things he wanted to play with, since today was the younger one’s day. The younger one offered the older one a first turn to play with it, then read a book on it when the older one gave it back to him. They are enjoying their new device.

I am never happy that my kids have had to go through the divorce of their parents. But I’m glad that the things I learned during the divorce process about setting boundaries and conflict prevention/resolution are things I can teach to my kids as tools to use in their own relationships. Who thought something as simple as evens/odds could open up their relationship like this?

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