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April 4, 2003 - Friday
This evening after dinner, not surprisingly when his mother and I were both occupied with other things, Harry went off the deep end about some silly problem he was having with his Thomas the Tank Engine train sets. I don't know for sure what happened - he claimed there was a probably with the track - but I think the problem was simply that Jeremy was attempting to play with the trains, too, and it was a sharing problem. Whatever it was, the irrational nature of the continued crying ultimately landed Harry on the sofa for our version of a time-out and he went on making noises for several moments, many of them so obviously forced it was comical.

Now, it's actually been quite a while since we've had to plop Harry on the sofa in this manner, some number of weeks I think, but it's hardly new or news. It's happened before and will happen again. The interesting thing about this time was that we, very coincidentally, had to put Jeremy on the sofa for a time-out last evening. Jeremy's been getting more assertive over the last few weeks, being less patient and more demanding about his desires in typical toddler fashion, and last evening his beef was with Harry finding and brining out from virtual storage the construction truck. Jeremy hadn't finished his dinner, but the sight of that truck reminded him what a great toy it was and convinced him that he had to have it right at that moment. We tried to dissuade and distract him, but he was sure that the truck was for him and NOT for Harry at that moment. After no let up for too long, Jeremy wound up on the sofa in a time-out.

The interesting part of this to me is the different reactions the two boys have to this forced effort to regain control of their emotions. Harry's instincts seem to be to resist, to carry on fighting both the original desire and the idea of being on the sofa. Eventually he'll come around, sometimes a lot faster than others, and sometimes he is very appropriately contrite. Jeremy seems to take the time-out itself more in stride, seemingly understand that it's a message that his behavior needs adjusting more than it's an actually punishment. Indeed, last evening, his diligent attempts to suck back in his little puffy lower lip amid heavy sighs and sobs literally made both his mother and I turn away in laughter.

I think that it's this difference that, as much as anything, probably sums up the stereotypical difference between first and second children. Sure, personalities matter, but I've got to believe that for a first child whose only real early role models are adults - adults who don't receive time-outs - such incidents have to be a little harder to understand than for a second child who has grown up watching another little person experience the same. To the second child, I think it's a lot more just something that happens; an "OK, OK, I understand." To the first child, it's something that has to be figured out and it's all about the self, with little frame of reference other than parents who don't seem to happy. "Why am I the only one you gets time-outs?" There's a lot more to human behavior and learning, sure, but it just feels like this is a marked difference depending on the order of birth.

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