Saturday, June 19, 2010

dog in the manger

Geekyboy has developed an annoying habit. He instantly covets a previously uninteresting toy the very minute his sister starts to play with it. At first I assumed from his hysterical howls of "I want that ____ (dinosaur, xylophone, princess Ariel figure) that his sister had taken it from him, and I insisted she return the item. I have come to realize that this was perhaps not usually the case, and I have inadvertently created a monstrous child who now howls the house down to get what he wants.

I'm at a bit of a loss as to the best way to solve these incessant conflicts over resources. My favourite book on the topic (siblings without rivalry) gives the following advice:

1. start by acknowledging the childrens anger towards each other.
2. Listen to each child's side with respect
3. Show appreciaition for the difficulty of the problem
4. Express faith in their ability to work out a mutually agreeable solution
5. Leave the room.

Though this sounds wonderful (has anyone tried this with Israel and Palestine?), I fear that my two year old will get the rough end of any negotaited agreement, given Geekygirls increasingly sophisticated verbal skills, and that my kids are a bit young yet to manage this on their own. I don't want to simply take the offending toy away (though I often do), since that seems unfair on Geekygirl, who had it first. I try offering Geekyboy alternatives (like an indistinguishable, to adult eyes at least, plastic princess or dinosaur) but invariably get it hurled back at me. I end up asking Geekygirl to share, setting the timer for 5 minutes each with the toy. Then the kicker is that when Geekyboy gets the toy he so desperately wanted, he plays with it for sixty seconds then discards it. Until his sister picks it up again and then its rinse and repeat on the whole performance.

As I said to Geekydaddy, it is classic "Dog in the manger" behavior.  Geekydaddy, unfamilar with the term, asked what happened to the dog in the fable, in case it offered any ideas. I googled it and it wasn't very helpful:

A Dog looking out for its afternoon nap jumped into the Manger of an Ox and lay there cozily upon the straw. But soon the Ox, returning from its afternoon work, came up to the Manger and wanted to eat some of the straw. The Dog in a rage, being awakened from its slumber, stood up and barked at the Ox, and whenever it came near attempted to bite it. At last the Ox had to give up the hope of getting at the straw, and went away muttering:
"Ah, people often grudge others what they cannot enjoy themselves."

Indeed. But what I want to know is did the dog get a time out? A sticker chart? Did this teach him mend his ways and develop empathy for the hungry Ox?

A more modern take on the fable sprung to mind while we were driving home from school last week. I have taken to playing hits from the show Glee in the car, and Geekygirl particularly likes Finn's version of "Jessie's Girl". She broke off from her sing along to ask me "But Mummy, why does he want Jessie's girl?". I smiled to myself, and answered "You know how you brother always want the same toys that you have? Well the guy singing the song wants his friend's girlfriend".

I didn't add that it is human nature to want what we can't have, and to covet the belongings and even the girlfriends of others. She can wait for the harsher lessons of life and love. No doubt many more of them will be prompted by the fables of our age, pop song lyrics.

How do you deal with conflicts over resources in your house?