Sunday, July 13, 2008

Conflict resolution at the Earles household

My two sons, Ryan and Maddox, are ages 9 and 5, respectively. They are each other's best friend, which is wonderful to see, but like any brothers, they occasionally fight, and sometimes these fights become physical. It is never very serious, but it's also something that I want to address quickly and effectively before it gets out of hand.

My next older brother is 1 1/2 years older than I am, and he and I constantly fought as we grew up. I have 'fond' memories of him shooting me in the neck with a BB gun, and me embedding a dart in the back of his head. (Just a flesh wound, honest ...) Unfortunately, our little sibling rivalry never mellowed, and grew into an emotional barrier that took many years to overcome.

One of my neighbors has big, oversize boxing gloves that he gives his kids to help them 'fight' in a harmless way and get out their aggressions, but I don't like the idea of my boys hitting each other, even if it doesn't hurt. I'm not convinced that there wouldn't be residual resentment or other hard feelings at the end of one of these boxing matches.

We have tried various means to resolve conflicts between Ryan and Maddox, but the most effective technique is also the most fun: sumo wrestling.


The idea grew out of our unsuccessful experiment with Ryan and Jiu Jitsu. We were looking for a way to help Ryan develop some strength, coordination, and physical self-confidence, so we considered various martial arts. I chose Jiu Jitsu because it doesn't have the typical punching of Tae Kwon Do or other forms; it's much more about grappling and leverage. While Ryan didn't take to Jiu Jitsu, he enjoyed the wrestling aspect of the classes.

About that time, I happened to see some sumo matches on late night TV. The next time the boys had a fight, an idea was born ...

Now when they get into some kind of scuffle, rather than yell at them, we just mark out the circle (dohyo) and have a Sumo match. We have now watched enough sumo on TV that they even know how to set up, performing the leg-stomping, hand-clapping shiko exercise to drive out the evil spirits.

It took us a while to find a competitive balance in the matches, since Ryan is 20 inches taller and 20 pounds heavier than Maddox. However, Maddox is strong and Ryan doesn't have great balance, so I taught Maddox to go in low, grab Ryan's knee, and just hold on tight until Ryan falls. They're now pretty evenly match.

I can't describe exactly how comical it is to watch my skinny boys go through this, and this is part of the charm of the whole activity. There is just no way that they can stay angry at each other after sumo. Occasionally, they have even stripped down to their underwear to mimic the mawashi that the sumo wrestlers wear. When they do this in our back yard, which is open to the street alongside our house, we get some very strange looks!
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