I’m not a big brute of a guy. I’m plenty sensitive and in touch with my emotions and do plenty of that “I feel” talk with my wife and kids (three boys, ages, 3, 5, and 7). That said, I think my house has gone way the hell too far in the direction of coddling. We talk about emotions and nothing but emotions all the time and at the drop of a physical scuffle, my wife intercedes and makes everyone uncomfortably talk it out. This is good, sometimes. But sometimes boys need to battle it out, right? They need to test the limits of argument and recognize that if they hit, there are consequences — especially when the 3-year-old punches the 7-year-old. He’ll learn a thing!
But it also goes for their physical safety. My wife hovers over the kids on bikes, when they climb trees, and when they play soccer. I don’t know how she finds all the energy. It’s got to be exhausting. But also, I think the kids are seriously missing out. Scrapes and a healthy dose of risk is good for kids. I believe this to my core.
This all came to a head for me personally when I talked to my wife about building a treehouse. They’re the perfect age for it. I’m pretty damn handy and have a buddy with piles of 2 x 4s he’s trying to get rid of. I know the tree and even have the plans. It’s going to be a helluva bonding experience. My wife says it’s too dangerous. She doesn’t trust me to be there to watch the kids. This is ridiculous. We’ve got to the point where we’re taking away precious moments from their childhood. I want to build it anyway but what a catastrophic fight that would be. Also, it would be an ugly callback to my divorced parents with dad doing hobbies in the garage, mom inside with the kids — it wouldn’t be a good look. What do I do?
Treehouse-less in Tallahassee
We’ll get to the treehouse in a second, and I do think you’re going to like what I have to say. But before we get you feeling all chuffed about being right, we need to talk about where you are wrong. Because while it’s important to learn from reasonably risky mistakes, problem-solving through physical altercation, and learning via violence is not a great lesson for your boys.
No. Boys don’t need to “battle it out” sometimes. That’s nonsense. Sure they’ll be naturally inclined to get physical during a conflict, but by letting them fight (and that’s really what you mean when you say battle) you’re basically condoning the violence. And make no mistake — it is violence. Even if it’s a three-year-old hitting a seven-year-old.
Violence in response to violence is not a reasonable consequence. In fact, it often leads to escalation. And if your boys come to understand that getting hit is a reasonable consequence then what’s to stop them from hitting other people in retaliation in the future. That could get them into some nasty situations in the future, particularly in zero-tolerance schools where retaliatory violence is seen as equal to the inciting violence.
This isn’t snowflake rhetoric. When you’re kids fight, they are reinforcing pathways in their brain that make it more likely they will fight in the future. They are practicing violence. Just like they might practice a kickflip. And every time they fight, they get better at it. What’s more, they get better at it instead of getting better at conflict resolution through communication.
So in this circumstance, your wife isn’t coddling by stopping fights to get the brothers to talk. She’s teaching them a better way to navigate the world. You should support that, completely.
But while you should support it, that doesn’t mean you can’t leverage that support to get the treehouse. Which is to say, we’ve reached the point in my response where we talk about where you’re right.
Building and playing in a treehouse would be an amazing experience for your kids. There are many reasons why this might be the case. Building a treehouse with you helps build important foundations in math, geometry, and engineering. In order to help you build the treehouse, they need to pay attention, follow instructions and work together, which helps them learn self-regulation and teamwork.
Once the treehouse is built, a very distinct physical education begins. They will learn how to climb, balance, swing and yes, even fall. But even they are exploring their limitations and discovering important concepts in physics like inertia and gravity.
A treehouse is also, by definition, outside. The more time your kids spend in a treehouse is more time spent away from the television, burning calories, getting stronger and soaking up all the benefits of being outside. What are those benefits? Research says that getting outside can increase focus, improve ADHD symptoms while improving vision, balance, mood, and boosting creativity. The pros of a treehouse for your boys outweigh the cons by a longshot.
And yes, there might be some spills, scrapes and the occasional contusion. But, pay attention here, the lesson here is not about pain. It’s not like learning from violence. If you fall down, there’s no retaliation. Getting up and getting back into the game is about resolve and resilience. Those are positive lessons linked to positive values.
Importantly, a lot of the positive outcomes that can result from treehouse play can’t be gained with close supervision by parents. So this is where you’re going to start bargaining with your wife.
Carve out time in your day where the two of you can sit down and focus just on this question: Should the boys have a treehouse? Make it a conversation. Talk about the pros I just gave you. Listen to her concerns and offer this deal: You will fully support the no fighting rules and present a 100-percent united front when it comes to talking out conflicts. And in turn, she will support the treehouse, with the condition that it is built with requisite safety rails and handholds to make it as safe as a treehouse can be.
The beauty of this plan is that these two things will work in concert. The communication skills your children in talking through conflicts in the house will transfer outside to treehouse play, making the games int he wild far more cooperative and beneficial.
In that way, everyone wins. And trust me there are very few win-win situations when it comes to family conflicts like this. I’d advise you to take this one.