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Wild Boys

I am a stay-at-home mother of two boys ages 2 and 4. When they are apart, each of them is pleasant, helpful, and easy to have around. But as soon as they are together they are unruly and disobedient. When they do "play" together it's like they're on a mission to destroy everything in sight. I want them to have fun and get along, but they are either fighting or out of control. What can I do?

A. Parenting young children is both physically and emotionally exhausting, so what you are going through is a normal developmental process. Your boys are at a particularly challenging stage. Preschool age boys usually have tons of energy and not a lot of structure within which to direct that energy. So your best approach is to develop a clear structure for your sons' joint play time to help them learn what's acceptable and what isn't. Here's how you can do that:

Reduce their joint-play time. Combine short periods (20-30 minutes) of playing together with other structured activities—working on puzzles with you, coloring with Dad, reading together—in between. Start their joint time off with an activity that's been successful in their parent/child time.

Define the rules of safe play. Together with your husband, develop a set of concrete rules for what you will and won't allow the boys to do when they are together, such as "no unsupervised wrestling." Explain the rules clearly and calmly to the boys (you'll probably need to repeat the rules often). Let them know that if they break any of the rules, you will end their joint play time for that period or give each boy a short time out. This will motivate the boys to cooperate so they can get their time together. As your boys get older, they'll internalize these rules and you won't need to supervise them so closely.

Limit their options. Children can get over-stimulated very quickly, so give your sons just a few choices: "You can play with these blocks or these cars." Montessori educators believe that allowing a child to concentrate on one activity at a time builds the foundation for focused learning in the future. If the boys misuse the toys, then they lose the toys for that play period.

Check in frequently. Stay within ear shot and do a visual check every seven to ten minutes to make sure the boys are following the rules. Make specific, positive statements about any cooperative play you see.

Get them outside. Your sons' need to play rough is a natural part of their make up, so give them plenty of opportunity to use their energy in an environment that's safe for them and worry free for you. Let them run at the park, wrestle at the beach, or use their loudest voices at the playground.

Make sure you make regular time for yourself as well. Parenting two little boys is hard, hard work, so renew your spirits with times of quiet where you can relax and remember that God has asked you to parent these little "sometimes wild" cherubs and he knows you're doing the best you can.

Karen L. Maudlin, Psy.D., is the mother of two and a licensed clinical psychologist specializing in marriage and family therapy. She is the author of Sticks and Stones (W).

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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