My Dear Daughter, in all her almost-eight-years-old-ness, has developed a penchant for passive-aggressiveness, especially toward her little brother. If you're a mom, you know the kind I mean.... I'm talking about how she has this uncanny way of saying something to her brother under her breath or behind our backs or in just such a way that she knows will really get her brother's goat. The kind that allows her to follow up with overdone "innocent eyes" and an overdone, "What??!!!" followed by something like, "...all I said was that the show Zach wanted to watch on tv is a 'baby show'." And this really translates into, "You're a total stupid-head if you like to watch that show, so you'd better agree to watch what I want to watch." Dear Son knows that even if his big sister's words appear relatively innocuous, he senses that he's somehow been made fun, belittled, or manipulated. He doesn't have the verbal savvy his big sister has to express exactly WHY he gets so fed up in response to her, so he simply handles it by slugging her. Hard. Eight times in the face.
And some of the time, I confess, I feel like I really can't blame him. HOWEVER--we have been working on the hitting thing since the boy-child was about two years old. No consequence for this behavior ever mattered enough to short-circuit the brain pathway he had built around the idea that when his sister is subtly passive-aggressive or manipulative, the only way to feel better is to smack her. It's been a hard habit to break.
I've come down hard on them both this summer, deciding that it didn't matter if it cost them their entire summer if it had to; the subtle antagonizing and the not-so-subtle beat-the-crap-out-of-my-infuriating-sister behaviors had to stop.
I had long discussions with my girl-child about how she repeatedly sets her brother up to hit her. I had long discussions with my boy-child about how I know his sister knows which buttons to push, but that no matter how antagonizing she is being, it's not okay to haul off and deck her.
The kids lost a trip to play in the water fountains downtown and a trip to the water park another week, and still the rotten behaviors continued. Then one day I promised my little gamer boy-child that he could play Sonic on the Xbox after lunch that day, until I found out he had punched his sister in the face for annoying him earlier that morning. I looked at him sadly and calmly informed him that he was not going to get to play Sonic after lunch after all because he hit his sister, and that has GOT to stop. Whereas he was seemingly unfazed by the other lost privileges this summer so far, apparently this one hit home hard. He left the room silently, and a moment later I heard absolute wailing and sobbing coming from his bedroom. Even Daughter was caught off guard and ran to his side to see if he got hurt. It is not Son's M.O. to cry and wail when he doesn't get his way. He didn't throw a fit, he just sobbed like his little heart would never mend again. I stood my ground, sad as I was myself about the whole ordeal, stressing to the boy-child that he simply had to learn to stop hitting. Meanwhile his sister was impacted by how sad her little brother was and realized how she had again set him up. He asked her to stop doing something that was annoying, and she didn't. So he punched her in the face. I sternly reviewed with her how she is the older sister and how she behaves affects how her brother decides to behave, and how she repeatedly sets him up, blah blah blah blah.
Son, while absolutely devastated over losing Sonic for the day, was very well behaved the rest of the day and the next morning, and I rewarded him with an hour of Sonic that morning. Not an hour after he got to play Sonic, he hit his sister again. It was out of habit. He didn't think before acting and when I called him on it, it was like he hadn't even realized until that moment that he had hit his sister and thus blown it again. The consequences weren't pretty. The kids lost all summer privileges again for a few days. It was sobering for them. I emphasized how their summer is passing them by while they choose to treat each other rottenly.
And that was the last time such behavior happened. It's been 11 days with no bickering, passive-aggressiveness, hitting....My kids have become delightful to hang with. We've gone to the regular park and the inflatable park with friends and tomorrow we plan to have fun at the fountains with friends. Even just hanging around the house with them playing Go Fish! and Checkers has become enjoyable. I'm hoping (albeit cautiously) that we've finally turned a corner.... Hold your breath!