Dear Therapist:

We are parents of 4 lovely boys...The house is very "rough and tumble" and while the boys often play very well together they also get physical with each other. We are having trouble figuring out when to intervene and when to let it go. We feel that on the one hand they need to learn to work it out among themselves; on the other hand at some point we need to intervene. Can you please give us some guidelines in raising rambunctious but healthy boys?



On the face of it, your question seems rather simple. You have normal, rambunctious boys and are trying to identify the line between healthy roughhousing and worrisome behavior. You’re asking how to delineate the point at which your sons’ behavior shifts from normal to troublesome.

The response to your question, however, should consider a number of factors. Although I cannot identify all the various things that should be taken into account, I will highlight a few.

Each child is an individual with unique needs. These needs originate from the combination of many facets of what we view as “personality.” Some differences to consider are age, maturity, sensitivity, openness, and level of self-esteem. Some kids thrive on “sibling rivalry,” becoming closer to one another as a result. Others can feel hurt or neglected when things (in their mind) go too far. Also, different children will be affected differently based on the particulars of each situation.

In addition, your awareness in each situation as to each child’s state of mind can lend insight into their immediate feelings and needs. A child who might have been perfectly ok with a little ribbing yesterday may be strongly triggered by seemingly similar behavior today. 
It’s possible that the defining line between “normal” interaction and hurtful behavior is similar for all four of your boys. It’s also possible that the needs of each child are vastly different from those of the others.

Another possible consideration is the difference in response between the two parents. Children are not the only ones who feel and behave differently based on differing triggers and emotions. Adults are also susceptible to the vicissitudes of emotional feelings and needs. In addition to your possible emotional need to respond (or not to respond), reliance on emotion can lead to differing methods of intervention. Neither the decision as to whether to intervene or the way in which this is carried out should be emotionally-based. As with any important issue, decisions should as objectively-based as possible. Identifying your own emotions and preconceived notions with regard to your children’s behavior can go a long way toward helping you to identify the proper course of action.

Juggling the needs of all four boys can be difficult, but with the proper combination of introspection and insight, an appropriate balance can be achieved.

Yehuda Lieberman, LCSW

 psychotherapist in private practice

 Brooklyn, NY   |   Far Rockaway, NY

 author of Self-Esteem: A Primer / 718-258-5317