A painful past obscures how this parent views their young child’s behavior

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Q: We have two sons who are almost three years apart. Our eldest son, who is almost 9 years old, has narcissistic tendencies, turns on his brother, rigs games in his favor and is extremely overconfident. Our youngest son is deeply affected by his brother’s treatment, shows extreme frustration, and blames his older brother for many of these negative traits.

The behavior of our eldest child reminds me of that of my violent older brother, with whom I have had no contact for years. Both parents intervene here in our boys’ fights to mediate, remind our eldest son of the need for self-awareness, and encourage our younger son to stand up for himself. We also train them to be communicative, fair and generous in their thoughts, to no avail.

Our eldest son doesn’t listen or hear our suggested resolutions and said he thinks he knows better than us. Our youngest son continues to be preyed upon by his brother, to the detriment of his self-esteem. I’m afraid their relationship will break, like mine with my brother, without a change in our eldest. How do we encourage greater self-awareness in a developing immature boy, and how do we teach him to value relationships by treating people better?

A: Thanks for writing; you’re not the only parent to have two siblings who argue, even quite terribly. There are a lot of different issues in this note, so let’s tackle them one by one.

For starters, it’s clear that you have some trauma related to the abuse you suffered from your brother. Using words like “narcissistic”, “gaslights” and “rigs” to describe your son paints a picture of a type of sociopath, and he’s only 8 years old. Can an 8 year old be a gaslighting narcissist? Of course, anything is possible, but your past obscures what is real and what isn’t.

I believe the boys are fighting, and maybe the older brother is bullying the younger one (all major issues), but you have a traumatic reaction to what you’re seeing, which impairs your judgment. What do I mean? Most people have some sort of trauma or injury from being a child. We have too much of one thing or not enough of another; we come to adulthood with petty idiosyncrasies or ironclad mental health issues. These small traumas and injuries can easily cause us to overreact or underreact to our children’s behavior, but big T traumas are a different story.

If your brother abused you for years, you might find yourself identifying with your younger son, and when the boys fight, your brain goes back to when you were abused. Your eldest son becomes your brother, and you risk finding yourself in childhood.

Your body is reacting to trauma and your anxiety over your abuse creates future stories about your eldest son. Your younger son remains the victim as he “continues to be preyed upon” by his brother, and the assumption that your children’s relationship will be like your relationship with your brother is completely tainted by your childhood trauma. .

Coaching and lecturing around boy communication is neither good nor bad, but until you resolve your own trauma, you won’t understand arguments in your home. You can stay in a loop of reaction, over-identification, catastrophizing and fear, making it impossible to support your two children.

I don’t know why your older son is angry and fighting with his younger brother. I don’t know what dynamics are at play with them, and I’m not even sure how harsh the arguments are. Is your oldest son really becoming narcissistic (it happens), or did typical sibling fights trigger your trauma?

To get more clarity, I would recommend finding a good family therapist who specializes in trauma. In the beginning, it should be just you who go there. You deserve support to sort out what happened to you as a child, and as you learn, grow, and heal, the therapist can also help you connect with both of your sons in a way that goes beyond the “victim” and “aggressor”. A new perspective will help you raise them with fresh eyes, more empathy, and less reactivity.

As for how to help your two sons right now, sit down with your partner and make a list of the details around the arguments. Be specific: what time of day it happens, where the boys are, what they are doing, how much they have eaten, what their sleep is like and how much exercise they have done. What patterns do you see? How do arguments start? Is there always a kind of “he said, then he answered, then he said” back and forth? Where are you and your partner when it starts? How bad does it get until you intervene?

You can then start solving problems more efficiently. Your eldest son may not be trusted to run the room with his little brother, and an adult needs to be more present. Maybe the younger son agitates his brother more than you thought. Maybe boys need more direction, more chores, and more support to find cooperation. Until you really examine the dynamics, reacting after arguments isn’t going to change anything.

Finally, read “The Explosive Child” by Ross Greene and discover livesinthebalance.org. Greene’s approach is pleasingly non-blaming and behavior-focused, and instead meets the child where they are while slowly and steadily finding workable solutions that meet both the needs of parents and caregivers. the child.

Do you have a question about parenthood? Ask for La Poste.

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