Parenting and Empathic Fathers

My Fighting Boys Needed This Help To Reconnect

Over the last few days my two sons, 9 and 6 years old, were fighting with each other – and I don’t mean the kind of normal arguments between siblings. Shouting, screaming, banging doors, accusing, teasing and also physical aggression between them became their way of communicating. My wife and I tried a lot: we spent more time than usual with them individually. We talked, negotiated, guided, listened and supported whenever possible. Nothing seemed to work. The fighting got worse – to the point that they would really physically hurt each other. You know how painful it is to watch that?

Yesterday morning I called for a family meeting to tackle the issues. We all sat down in a circle. I guess my boys expected from their parents a lecture about their behaviour. So they sat with little interest and the typical let’s-finish-this-quickly-facial-expression in front of us. But I didn’t meet their expectations.

Instead I started our meeting with opening my heart and saying words of appreciation to them: “I feel a lot of happiness when I see you caring for your brother and sister. There are so many beautiful things you did to help them!” – And to my other son: “You are always so happy and bring laughter and joy to our family. You show so much kindness and care when you see someone being sad or lonely. Thank you!”

After our words-of-appreciation warm-up we talked long and intensely about the events of the last days. We reflected, listened and connected. We brought some issues to the light, but it wasn’t easy at all and in between I felt that we’re not getting close to a solution. Well, not yet.

Before we finished the meeting I asked both my boys if they could think of three actions they would do in favour for their brother. Three kind actions a day, at least. It could be anything: kind words, an invitation to a game, reading a story to the other one… something to bring joy. My suggestion didn’t go down that easily, unfortunately. I didn’t want it to be a burden for them either. So, I left the topic unfinished. With a more or less heavy heart we carried on with our daily routine.

But what I noticed shortly after the meeting was a change. My sons spent their day together with a lot of playing, supporting each other (like in the old days) and laughing. Whenever I could I joined their fun and listened to their adventures. In the evening, on the sofa, I talked to my eldest again. He was asking about my suggestion from the morning. At first he seemed skeptical and discouraged. Why should he do three (!!!) things for his brother? That annoying, irritating brother! Hey, boy, your brother is awesome. You feel irritated or annoyed? Those are YOUR feelings, your thoughts and it got nothing to do with him. He tries his very best as you do. As we all do. “Really??” – can I read in his face. Really!

After a long talk about kindness, brotherhood and love, he turned to me and said: “Papa, tomorrow I’ll try that. I’ll see whether I can do one thing, or even more, for my brother!” What a great and warm promise. Even if you don’t get there my son, you are willing to try.

And you know what? Today I didn’t say anything. I just watched. I just listened. I was present. And they both took care of each other, and their little sister, that my heart melted. I saw kindness, I felt the bonding and I could hear the fire of excitement. So much love. So much connection. Thank you boys!

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