Does Birth Order Determine Personality?

After watching our tapes, Hardy said he felt Spencer sometimes crossed the line, because he didn't seem to express any remorse or concern after hurting his younger brother. "In most cases," Hardy says, "I would reasonably expect the kid who threw the punch would feel awful about that, would administer to his brother, not push back and smile about it."

Their mom, Alex, does something lots of experts recommend. Away from the anger of the moment, she convenes a family meeting, where everyone can talk about how they felt. But she directs most of the talking.

Back Up Words with Action

Hardy says parents have to acknowledge that sometimes kids want to hurt each other, but they have to tell them not to act on it.

Hardy tells Alex and Jeff Franco they should intervene more when their boys are fighting, especially Jeff.

Often, Jeff tells the boys to stop it, but doesn't follow up with any action.

That's one of the basic difficulties with lots of words and no action, Hardy says, "At some point it would have been helpful for dad to go over and say, 'Spencer, I need you to stop. And when I ask you to stop I expect you to stop.'"

Hardy told the Francos to define some boundaries for Spencer.

He also told the Francos to tell Spencer that he should take pride in being a big brother, but remind him, with that, comes responsibility. He says they should let him know that part of what older brothers do is look out for their younger siblings.

Hardy tells the Francos that Spencer can keep his "top dog" status in a lot of ways. One of those is by belting his brother in the mouth. Another is hearing from his parents that he's "top dog" because he's older.

To reduce some of the rivalry, Hardy advises the Francos to stop bending over backward to make everything equal. That works well for Jackson but diminishes Spencer's role as the oldest, he says.

"There are going to be many instances in life where life for these two boys is not fair," Hardy says, "And that's the way it is sometimes. There are times when you need more, we give you more. Sometimes he needs more, we give him more."

Hardy says the Francos should look for instances when Spencer and Jackson are actually being nice to each other. "The best way to teach is to reward the good," says Hardy. "Catch your kid doing something right and compliment him."

Will the advice work? Two weeks later, we checked in on the Francos, and they say everything is different.

When we went back to visit, we saw Spencer complimenting his brother and even sharing his birthday jelly beans without a fuss.

Two pieces of Hardy's advice have made the most difference — rewarding good behavior and punishing bad behavior.

If either brother is mean to the other they get a cactus sticker. Three stickers and you lose all privileges for a day.

If they do something nice, even very small things, it's rewarded.

"Neither of them have hurt each other since we started this whole cold prickly, warm fuzzy program which is, in my opinion a miracle in itself," Alex says.

Also, the Francos say encouraging Spencer to take pride in being the oldest has made a huge difference. Alex says, "It has taken on a life of its own, because we have expected Spencer to behave in a way as a protector and he's done it. And because Jackson now trusts him, they want to spend more time together. It's just made us feel like we're on the right track."

This report was originally broadcast May 21, 2004

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