Q. "We have two boys. David is 7 and Michael is 9, and even though I think they like each other, they might have come from differentplanets.
"The younger one is irrepressible; the older one is careful -- a figurer. I didn't expect them to be alike, but I didn't expect them to fight all the time either.
"Nothing is too trivial to squabble about, from the choice of television programs to what they feel is the coice seat in the car when we run errands -- the one in front. Each boy eggs on the other, but if one should hold back, the other has to tease, until the arguments start all over again. It makes me want to scream, but that doesn't help either.
"Nothing does. No matter how carefully 2 divide the treats, or how much I yell (or how much I grit my teeth), the fights just keep rolling along.
"Last night they had a scuffle in the living room and broke a lamp. My husband was furious with them and with me, for letting them get so wild. I'm so tired of being caught in the middle I could weep. Sometimes I think I should never have had children." A. It's time to do a little sharing. You didn't have those babies by yourself, and since you're still married, you don't rear them by yourself either. Even if your husband were their stepfather, he still would be expected to discipline them when he's annoyed, since the person who's bothered the most by a problem is the one who corrects it.
And sibling rivalry -- if you'll pardon the wretched jargon -- does need correction, even though it is inevitable. The firstborn always will resent the second -- often quite a bit -- and the second will never feel completely sanguine about the appearance of a third. Life's like that, and the most even-handed parent can't change it.
Basically, the boys are jealous for your attention, and they're getting just what they want. While it would be nicer to get smiles and kind words, they'll take whatever reaction they can get. So long as they get more attention from bad behavior than from good, their behavior will simply get worse, unless you make a conscious about-face.
This is not to say that you ignore these scenes. Who could? But there are ways to respond to their fights without putting yourself in the middle. That's not where a parent belongs.
If you step between two street brawlers, you're liable to get hit; and if you step in between those boys, you're going to get hurt. You're the target.
Preventive measures, as always, are best and in this case, their success will depend on how special you can make each child feel.
This happens when you help your children organize their time so that they spend much less of it together . When Michael plays down the street, David has a friend over. When David runs errands with you, Michael is patching his bike tire.
If one of them gets a treat and the other says, "That's not fair," you say "Life's not fair." If the bickering continues (and at first it will), you say you won't put up with scorekeeping. When they persist (and they will), they are given jobs to work off their energy. It might be raking the yard or folding a load of wash, but not in the same area, or in a room with any toys in it. If a television is near, it won't be turned on.
And if (or when) the bickers are shouted from room to room, they each will get bigger jobs, since they obviously have more energy than you thought. It doesn't matter who started the scene, or who keeps it going; both children are equally accountable.
When their tempers are better, you show your pleasure by ignoring the whole business, and give them quality time. The "How was school today?" is fine, but they also need the sort of conversation you have with your other friends, like "The best thing happened today!" or "If you had had the hassle I did at work, what would you have done?"
It's the good behavior that's rewarded with good attention; the bad behavior isn't rewarded at all.
It isn't that children should feel it is bad to get mad -- or even, on rare occasions, to fight -- but there is a time and a place for everything and it doesn't have to be around you. And if it is, they're going to have to take the consequences.
Even with these ground rules, you still can expect an explosion at least once a day. That's normal and easily ignored. However, it should end quickly and be a lot quieter, at least when you're around. Don't worry; it won't be long before your boys are the best little hissers on the block.
Every now and then computers decide they know better than columnists -- which is no doubt often the case, but not last week in Paren'ts Almanac. To correct our copy, there are 35 million allergy sufferers in the United States, not a measly 3 million. With one out of six people affected -- not counting poison-ivy victims -- you can see why more and more pediatricians suspect allergies as a possible cause of any chronic problem, physical or psychological.