This morning, after more raging from Matthew and more refusals from Seth to have anything to do with Matthew, I decided to change course. I sat both boys down...first Seth, then Matthew, then together (with Lizzie listening in).
I asked both privately first what they figured the primary problems were in their relationship with their brother and what each boy would like to see happen going forwards. Then I brought them together and asked if they could share with their brother what they had told me in private. Thankfully, by the time they were sitting together to talk, I had hashed it out enough with both of them privately that they were more comfortable with the words they could use to talk to their brother about it.
Seth told Matthew that he didn't want to play with him when Matthew initiated an activity because he was scared that Matthew would get mad for some reason and hit him, or make him feel scared.
Matthew told Seth that he was hurt that Seth didn't want to play with him any more and that this often made him angry; and then (a little to my surprise) he told Seth that he loves him very much but that sometimes he feels all mixed up towards Seth because he misses the time he used to have just with Mommy and Daddy. He also told Seth that it hurt his feelings that Seth always rejects Matthew's attempts to hug him.
Big confessions from young children. I chose not do dig deeper into Seth's underlying issues with love and affection, though privately Seth has told me about his fears in this area. I figured this would be too vulnerable a place for Seth to go with Matthew.
They talked to each other about how they felt with the other did something that wasn't working for them, and they talked a bit about how they might resolve things.
They came away with the following:
* They both like playing together, except that it's been really hard lately.
* Matthew is going to work really hard, when he gets mad, to hit the floor or a couch or a cushion, instead of threatening Seth with a fist or actually landing one. (Note: we'll see how this goes - I know Matthew fully intends well in this area, but it's hard when a child is in a rage to manage the words that want to come out or the arm that wants to punch)
* Seth is going to try, despite his fear, to play with Matthew again.
* Seth is going to try to hug Matthew on occasion, or at least accept one from Matthew on occasion. They agreed that the hugs would last to the count of three and that there would be no squeezing (Matthew), no pinching (Seth), and no tickling (both).
I had planned (a plan destined to fail yet again!) to do school with Matthew upon finishing breakfast, but after this long discussion, the boys both asked if they could go and play together, keeping their new resolves in mind. What could I do other than say yes when they looked at me like that and actually wanted to do something together for the first time in what seems like forever?? I said that for as long as they are getting along this morning, they can play.
In an attempt to let the boys have time together, I've put Lizzie into the bath and she is playing happily beside me here. And the boys are in the basement building cardboard houses for their teddies. It's a bit risky to leave them alone with me two floors away, but I'm willing to take the gamble.
About five minutes ago, Seth came tearing up the stairs and I thought something had gone wrong. He burst into the bathroom and said this:
"Matthew just got really mad. He punched de couch. Not me."
I pumped my fists up into the air while he smiled. I suggested that he go downstairs and say thank you to Matthew, that he hit something other than him. Seth grinned and ran.
Could there be a better school lesson than that?