I have three children, the youngest of whom is Isaac, an adorable 5-year-old boy. Isaac has several close friends and is a well-adjusted, happy child. A few months ago, we had a wonderful new development: my older sister moved into a home a few blocks away from where we live. She has one 5-year-old son, and we were both so excited to have family nearby and for the cousins to strike up a friendship.
But life didn’t happen that way. Her little one, Asher, is a classic only child. Sharing his toys is anathema to him, and he is very bossy and insists on doing everything his way. Isaac, on the other hand, is used to sharing, and doesn’t understand why Asher gets so bent out of shape when he tries to play with his toys.
As you can imagine, the playdates turn into screaming matches, and my hopes for the two cousins to be close have gone up in smoke.
Since my sister, Leah, is a newcomer; she doesn’t have friends to call on, so arranging playdates for Asher is difficult. Even though Isaac and Asher are like oil and water, Leah still tries to get them together frequently because otherwise Asher is bored.
During their last playdate, Isaac wound up having to go in time-out for hitting Asher. But the unfairness had me balling my fists and wanting to dissolve into a tantrum. Every time Isaac tried to play with one of Asher’s cars, trucks or bike, Asher dissolved into a major tantrum, screaming and snatching the toy out of Isaac’s hands. Like a normal 5-year old, Isaac reached the limit of his patience and finally reacted. Honestly, I was amazed that he waited that long. Yet, I still had to utilize the teaching moment and remind him, “Even though Asher isn’t playing nicely, you have to be a big boy and use your words.”
To top it off, Leah is also sending Asher to the same school that Isaac attends.
Alarm bells are clanging in my mind at the idea of having them in the same class, but how do I say that to my sister?
I don’t want to hurt Leah or damage our relationship in any way, but I’m not sure how to handle this unhealthy dynamic.
Pulling Out My Hair
Dear Pulling Out Your Hair,
Isaac is lucky to have such a sensitive, intuitive parent. Your caring for him rings through every line of your letter. I agree wholeheartedly. Why should his playdates have to turn into boxing matches? Yet, you don’t want to just close the door. You’re concerned about your relationship with your sister and want to keep things on an even keel, not to mention encourage cousin-closeness. In addition, your sister has just moved in; naturally you want to be warm and welcoming. So, what’s a person to do when caught between a rock and a hard place?
I feel that your child should be your priority. As a 5-year old, he is totally dependent on you to support his physical and emotional well-being. If playing with Asher is unhealthy for him, then he deserves to be protected from that experience as much as possible. That is not to say that the cousins should never get together.
Perhaps shorter intervals can be attempted, and maybe a neutral territory, like a park, would be more conducive to positive interactions.
Can you call the school, explain the situation, and see if the cousins can be separated into different classes? I have the feeling that you are probably not the only one dealing with this situation, and perhaps the school would be sympathetic.
Leah will never know that the decision was instigated by you. And there will be a major benefit: Asher will have the opportunity to have a whole new network of friends, a different crowd from those in Isaac’s circle!
I wonder if their friendship can be fostered with an occasional treat. If you’re planning to stop off for ice cream one day, can you invite Asher along? Little spurts of time involving pleasant experiences can plant new seeds.
Having a sibling move to your neighborhood sounds so wonderful from an outsider’s viewpoint. But real life can be complicated. Yet, as we all know, it is the challenges, whether small or large, that build our muscles, fortifying us with resilience and endurance.
I hope that one day, Isaac and Asher will be close friends! Kudos to you for looking out for your child and for caring about your sister and nephew. Navigating this new territory with sensitivity is the best way to go. May your efforts bear fruits soon!
Wishing you all the best,