Dear Five Faces: I have two teenage sons who used to get along quite well, but now they always seem to be at each other’s throats. Jack, age 17, can come off like a know-it-all at times, but in his defense, he is very smart. Timmy doesn’t like Jack correcting him or telling him what to do, especially in front of us, but he’s still young enough (15) to make poor choices at times and I think Jack is just trying to help. It isn’t working, though, because the two of them are fighting more and more. Any suggestions on how to help them get along? I suspect Jack is a Metal and Timmy is a Wood. Signed, Battle Weary Mom
Dear Battle Weary: To paraphrase Shakespeare, the course of sibling love never did run smooth. Siblings can be each other’s first friends, and sometimes first enemies. In the case of your sons, I’m sure you know that some fighting and competition is natural, especially in two boys so close in age. But if it gets out of hand, it can hurt both boys, and we don’t want that. Let’s look at what’s going on between the two and see what we can do to help.
There are two primary dynamics at play between Jack and Timmy, and neither works to Timmy’s advantage. First, Timmy is the youngest, so from that perspective, Jack will always have the “upper hand” as the older brother. The second issue is that, at an elemental level, your sons relate to each other via the Control Cycle, which can create conflict. Here again, Timmy is at a disadvantage because Jack’s Metal will control his Wood, and that won’t feel very good to Timmy. In fact, these two dynamics can leave Timmy feeling stuck and “less than” much of the time. Remember, Woods prize movement, so stuck is never good for a Wood. They also value individual success, so feeling less than isn’t going to go over well with Timmy, either.
From Jack’s perspective, as a Metal and the eldest, he probably correctly assumes that he is wiser than Timmy and wants to share his wisdom. This, of course, will no doubt anger Timmy. The good news is that Metals are so wise and kind that if you explain a problem to them in a clear and logical way, they will instantly be on board to help with the solution. And that’s what needs to happen here.
I suggest you have a private discussion with Jack about Timmy’s need to express his individuality. Remind Jack that it’s okay if Timmy does something in a less than perfect (read: Metal) way; we learn from our mistakes as well as our successes. When Jack has an urge to correct Timmy, suggest that he ask Timmy if he would like some input. If Timmy says no, then leave it at that (hard for a Metal, but it can be done). You can also suggest to Jack that if he sees opportunities to help Timmy express his individuality or succeed at something (short of telling him what to do), he might facilitate that.
From Timmy’s perspective, remind him that Jack does have more experience than he does, so his ideas might be worth considering. This may or may not fly well now, but it plants the idea with Timmy that there is likely to be value in Jack’s input. You can also encourage Timmy to be his own Metal, which will take the sting out of Jack’s Metal. For example, he might learn to monitor for himself when he thinks he’s gone too far and needs to pull back before someone (like Jack) comments. Learning and appreciating limits is a natural part of maturing. Having Timmy think about this ahead of time (which does build on Wood’s brilliance at planning) will foster his ability to be self-sufficient (also big for Woods), so it’s possible Timmy will embrace this notion easily. And if he doesn’t now, he will later. A last thought includes asking him if he would prefer being called “Tim” these days instead of “Timmy.” That alone may help things.
The bottom line is that prolonged tension between Metal and Wood can hurt both elements. I encourage you to initiate a dialogue with your boys to help manage the dynamics between them before the damage is irreparable. With a little work (and time), you should be able to get the course of sibling love back on track. Good luck!