We have three boys in a row, and they often physically try to occupy the same space, for example when one is at the sink rinsing off his dishes another will lean into them to move them over so they can use the sink, the first then bumping them back, etc.
Another example is from in the car: one son started chanting repetitively from a book he had been reading, and another said in an irritated tone, "So-and-so, please stop!" So-and-so ignored this and continued to chant, and soon I was summoned to referee the situation. I said, "So-and-so, you need to say okay or disagree appropriately with your brother. The oldest son then jumped in and said, "No, So-and-so needs to accept a no answer or ask to disagree appropriately!
In situations like this, where siblings are bothering each other or being aggressive to each other without actually hurting anyone, but it hurts the peace in the home, I don't understand what should happen in the correction. They tend to have these "He's breathing my air" moments all the time! Please help me see which of the Four Basic Skills this sort of thing requires.
Answer – Territorial Battles
I don't think there is one family who hasn't experienced some of this, weather the situation happens with family members or with friends. All people have a desire to have a certain amount of control over their environment, and the people in their environment. Control makes people feel happy, satisfied, and safe. The problem with the kind of control explained in this question is that it is only temporary control.
Temporary control is a counterfeit to real control; self-government. Controlling other people will never bring lasting happiness and security. By contrast, controlling yourself always creates confidence and strength.
When a person is trying to control other people in his surroundings he is being territorial, similar to a dog who runs out to bark at you if you walk on the side walk in front of his house. I want to be very clear here. Boundaries are very important! And, we should all observe appropriate social, physical, and emotional boundaries, but creating boundaries just for the sake of control is not appropriate, and is a territorial behavior. Your sons' behaviors are so confusing to you because they look like boundary issues, but they are really territorial/control issues.
The Feeling Of Contention VS Family Unity
When one person becomes territorial at home, the whole family starts to feel contentious. This contention is dangerous because it inspires more territorial and controlling behaviors. Before you know it parents are micro-managing children and children are bossing each other around and doing things just to annoy each other, as you describe above.
If your family has a vision of what kind of family you are becoming; a loving, united family. And, your child starts creating contention in the home by being territorial, then the child is either not following a family instruction to create a feeling of unity and love in the home, or the child is not accepting a no answer to stay away from feelings of contention. Contention is the opposite of love and family unity.
Correcting Bad Behaviors
The other day my children were arguing about having a car door open or closed while we were waiting in a parked car for a few minutes. I listened closely to see how they would handle the dispute. Each of them disagreed appropriately with each other. One person explained that he was hot. The other explained that she was cold. They spoke calmly to each other at first. But, soon it was obvious that no one was going to yield. They got to a point when they were saying, “open,” “closed,” “open,” “closed.”
At this point, I had to step in. They began their discussion very assertively, trying to listen to each others' opinion. But, now it was obvious that each one really just wanted control over the other person.
I said, “Porter and Londyn stop talking.” They did. “I have been listening to your conversation. At first, you were disagreeing appropriately with each other and trying to calmly find a solution to your problem. However, now you are power struggling. You are yelling at each other and both of you are trying to control the other person. This argument has taken the spirit of love and unity out of our car. What you should have done is shown love for each other by teaching the other person that their appropriate disagreement worked.”
“But, then I would be hot.” said Porter.
“Yeah, then I would be cold.” Londyn chimed in.
“Maybe.” I said. “But, you would have taught yourself and your brother a really great lesson. You would have shown your brother that you love him more than you love comfort for yourself. And you would have taught him to listen to your disagreements, and he would probably let you have your way the next time. Most importantly, you would have taught yourself that you can sacrifice for love and family. You would have seen that you control your own happiness and the happiness in the family...Let's do this situation again and see who can be the first one to show love and self-control.”
“Porter, I know you want the door open because you are hot, but I am cold in the shade. Can you please close door?” Londyn said.
Porter thought for a second and then said, “Okay.” and closed the door.
Of course I praised them and we discussed what went right. Porter was happy. He could have chosen to pout, but he felt good inside and chose to drop the subject after that. (If he would have pouted I would have talked to him about dropping the subject of course.)
There are many territorial boundary lines we can argue over: doors open or closed, heat on or heat off, who gets the front seat, who gets the favorite dinner plate, who is touching who and even who is breathing who's air. These silly, small family interactions can ruin the feeling in a home and must be discussed. As each situation is discussed and practiced the right way, and consequences are earned if someone is having a controlling behavior, then the family becomes closer and closer to becoming that family they have always wanted to be; united.