But, son of a gun if the old man isn't right. I had siblings, but the age difference was so great that the older ones were never really around much and I couldn't be troubled with the little ones. That's not to say I didn't pick up certain skills. According to my sibs, I dead-floated in the pool scaring them off swimming (true), negotiated the younger children out of their money (true), and punched one in the stomach (totally untrue). These are methods of managing conflict that still serve me today (avoidance, persuasion, and a different kind of persuasion).
When watching my two boys communicate, I realize they're benefiting in much the same way in learning boundaries and appropriateness, as well as how to work with each other.
When to Stop:Recently, Castor learned a lesson that you can only boss someone around so much before they fight back. He walked up to Pollux and, out of the blue and without any good reason, pushed Pollux's shoulder. Pollux, two years younger but considerably stockier, looked up from his cars, got a little glint in his eye, and pushed Castor back in the same manner. Back and forth they shoved until finally Castor said, "I'm older than you, Pollux!" [shove] Pollux's response? [super hard shove, Castor falls backwards, turns teary, and Pollux giggles]
Applying Logic:One of the unanticipated results of enrolling the children in private school is hearing certain fables quoted in daily conversation. Most recently they have used the golden rule and Jesus's claim in Matthew's Gospel that "the last shall be first and the first shall be last." Like fledgling philosophers, the children interpret (and re-interpret) these lessons for their own nefarious purposes. A typical exchange goes like this:
Pollux: [plays with a beloved toy of Castor's]
Castor: [walks behind Castor, shoves him, makes a grab for toy]
Pollux: [pushes Castor, protects toy]
Castor: [hits Pollux, takes toy back]
Me: "Boys! Do not hit each other!"
Castor: "But Mom! Pollux hit me first! And you're supposed to treat people the way they want to be treated so he must have wanted me to hit him!"
Me: "It doesn't matter. We don't hit. Also, Pollux give Castor back his toy - you know to not play with that one."
Pollux: "Fine! The last shall be first and the first shall be last so if I'm last to play with the toy that means I'll be first next time!"
Teamwork:My husband has an iTouch which is apparently the boys' white whale. The boys aren't technically allowed to play with it, although they've managed to spend enough time with it to navigate with acuity. Every night it is put away in a different location in a place difficult to find and reach. And every weekend morning, while we sleep in late, it manages to...disappear.
We always find it, located behind some large piece of furniture coddled protectively by four little hands, a cool screen glow making the boys' eyes shiny. Given the effort we spend in hiding it, we're always surprised they manage to find it - so one morning, we roused ourselves to awareness to figure it out.
It generally works like this: First, Pollux, the younger, cuddlier one runs into our room, crawls in between us and says, "cuddle me, Mommy and Daddy." Naturally we oblige. Within moments, Castor stealthily tip-toes in with a small step stool and some kind of long stick-like toy (lightsaber, hanger, paper towel roll, etc.). He sets up shop in the vicinity of the closet and goes hunting for the iTouch. Occasionally, he peeks out to make sure we're still slumbering and then he goes back to work iTouch foraging.
Once Castor finds the elusive electronic treasure, he normally mutters a breathy "Yes!", puts the iTouch in his pajamas pocket, and takes his tools of the trade out of the room with him. He then runs back, lightly climbs on the bed, taps on Pollux's shoulder who clambers out of the covers after Castor. They close the bedroom door and then count on us sleeping while they amuse themselves with their ill-gotten gains.
What have I learned from this? Yes, my dad was right. Also, they'll learn much from each other and sibling relationships are great preparation for interacting with others, with a few years of refinement, of course.