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We have talked about bickering between siblings. We’ve talked about the fact that siblings fight over silly things to find out if mom or dad loves a sibling more. Today’s topic is about wrestling, physical play, roughhousing or aggression, call it what you like.

I found this section the most difficult to write because of the implied stereotype that aggression is always wrong, and is typically a male activity. Yes, boys are more physically aggressive than girls, but girls get aggressive, too. However, most of the time female aggression is expressed through talking not physical activity, things like using mean, cruel, snarky, or backstabbing words. A great book about this is Queen Bees and Wannabes, by Rosalind Wiseman.

The word aggression gave me some problems as well. I have sons and never want to give the impression that boys have no other qualities other being aggressive, because that’s not true. My sons were, and are, sweet, gentle, strong, intense men. So I added another word along side the word aggression for this piece. The word is intensity, and I think that will give you a better understanding of the dynamic I’m talking about in this post.

Parents are much more conscious and aware these days than in previous generations, and that’s a good thing. We’re finally focusing on feelings, self-esteem, respect, and remaining connected. Because of that there is an unexpressed fear that any physical play, any aggression, will result in violence of some kind.

As sweet and gentle as my boys were, they could go from zero to 100 in a blink of an eye. My guys were always in constant motion, and I’m guessing your kids are as well. So that’s how I’m defining aggression [intensity] for this piece, as constant physical or emotional motion.

Michael Gurian, author of The Wonder of Boys says, “The male brain is hardwired to go into resting states, [similar to a computer in sleep mode] when he’s not active. That means boys need to move in order to learn and process the world around them. Girls need to talk about things in order to process the world around them. And when a girl becomes aggressive she tends toward dramatic outbursts and mean words.

Some parents perceive constant physical motion as aggressive behavior that needs to be stopped no matter what. Research tells us that male aggression [intensity] is the result of testosterone. It’s what makes a male a hunter-gather, so there’s nothing inherently wrong with it. Parents can’t eliminate aggression from boys, but you can work with it. It’s the same for girls. You can’t stop a girl from getting dramatic when she’s upset, but you can work with her.

Violence is different than aggression; it’s a learned act. Violence requires an adult’s immediate attention, and should never be tolerated. Aggression [intensity], on the other hand needs to be guided and released.

Believe it or not roughhousing and physical play is a good way for boys and girls to release aggression. Shelly Macdonald, founder of Apparentlove.com says, “Roughhousing releases a chemical called brain-derived neurotropic factor (BDNF) which acts like fertilizer for the brain. Roughhousing stimulates neuron growth within areas of the brain responsible for memory, learning, language, and logic. So roughhousing, wrestling, and physical play serve a purpose.Okay, I’ve shared what the research says; now it’s time to give you some tips to respond instead of react when physical or verbal aggression appears. 

Responding

Real or Play, Which is it?
Years ago I heard a Montessori teacher ask two boys who were wrestling, “Is this agreed upon play?Both boys stopped, looked at her and cheerfully said, “Yes!” then picked up where they left off. Sometimes play is play, and sometimes a fight has begun.

Boys learn about their power by playing physically. Girls learn about their power from how they use words, and how it affect others.

Make sure that any physical roughhousing, or verbal playacting is something that both parties have agreed to. If kids get physically or verbally violent, stop them.

Rules
I was never totally comfortable with the physical stuff, mostly because one of my dear friends used to tell me horror stories about the roughhousing he and his brothers did. That made think, we need some rules for our family so I can relax and let things play out. We decided as a family that when you wrestle there’s no slapping, no fists, no jumping off things, and no landing on people. That made it a little better!

Secret Words
Have the kids choose one secret word that they both use to alert their sibling that the play has to gone too far. When this secret word is said both of their hands must return to their sides, and all activity stops, immediately. My kids chose the word weirdo, so their friends wouldn’t know they had a secret word.

Since you too are affected by this kind of play, you should have a secret word as well! If you see things headed in a dangerous direction, or if the play is too loud for you at the moment, or whatever, use your secret word. Both kids will have to stop, bring their hands back to their sides and respect your wishes, or the play will be suspended for a period of time.

My secret word was “Freeze.” That word saved my youngest child from being hit by a car, stopped many potential wars, and got their attention No. Matter. What. Even now, as adults, if I say, “Freeze” they will. I tried it a few years ago when they were in their 20’s and it still worked!

Change my mind
I’d be dishonest if I didn’t add that according to my sister I didn’t stopped tickling her when she said stop. She’s right, I didn’t stop, and I am sorry about that! This is a perfect example of something that was fun until someone changed his or her mind. I was too young to understand what she needed. 

We’ve all seen it, one minute there is a smile on one kids face, and the next minute there’s anger, upset or pain. Ask your kids to look at the other person’s face every few minutes to make sure the other person is still having fun. This is a good way to begin introducing empathy. As a result of my experiences with my sister, I had a rule that stated, when it’s no longer fun for one person; the other person has to stop.

Time and Place
This was a well-worn phrase in our house. Even though my kids were allowed to roughhouse at our house, and at uncle Mike’s house, they were never allowed to do that at their grandmother’s house. If things began to get wild we simply said, “Time and Place” and they stopped.

That’s all Folks
Hopefully now you have a better understanding about why bickering, silly fights, and physical or verbal aggression shows up and how to respond to it, instead of react to it. If you use these responsive tips, and they work for you, tell a friend!

Now, go hug your kids!
Sharon

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