9

Our family has three boys and now a baby girl. My oldest is in his teens and was so gentle on his clothes that I have had a steady supply of well cared for and almost brand new hand me downs available for the next two boys (and a select few for my girl). Fewer things survive my second boy, but what does gets saved for his younger brother. I have the clothes organized in a closet by season and size and I let the boys "shop" in the closet at the beginning of each season before we hit the stores. This has been going on without any issues for years.

Lately, my 5 year old has been catching up in size to my 7 year old, so that right now, they are almost the same size. One is 7-8 and the other 6-7. Ususlly the clothes are "out of circulation" for two years but it's been barely a season lately, and this winter they are overlapping. My 7 year old has always been very possessive and kind of jealous, and now he's refusing to "allow" my 5 year old to wear "his" clothes. It's true that some of the stuff was his not too long ago (a month is as long as I could let them sit in the closet before my 5 year old needed to "shop".) The 7 year old goes into the 5 y.o. drawer to "takes back" what's "his" or attempts to rip the clothes off of his brother if he sees my 5 year old wearing them. He calls my 5 year old a copy cat, a thief, a scrub (for wearing someone else's clothes), and other nasty names. Poor little guys, each in their own hell. One getting tortured simply for getting dressed and the other by his emotions. This is very distressing for everyone. Our mornings have become total chaos.

Here are some things we've tried:

My oldest son has tried to reason with my 7 year old, and remind him that the clothes were his and he's never once gotten mad at the 7 year old for wearing them. He also pointed out that the baby wears onsies, sweatpants, and mittens that were my 7 year olds and he doesn't get mad at her. My 7 year old's response is "well, they aren't your clothes anymore because they are mine, so you would be an idiot for being mad at me for wearing things that are mine." He then rejects his own "logic" when we apply it to his brother who is wearing his clothes that are his. My 7 year old says "no, they are mine forever once they are mine."

We tried doing a "swap" in the closet. He had to "buy" the clothes out of the closet with his old clothes. He was fine with this. He happily swapped out a pair of size 7 jeans for an identical pair of size 8's. We then waited a few weeks before we brought our 5 year old to shop. Our 7 year old immediately spots "new" clothes on his brother and will tackle him and inspect the tag for the size.

We've tried buying the 7 year old clothes instead of going shopping in the closet, and skipping him altogether with the hand me downs. He still gets mad at my 5 year old, claiming that he should have first dibs and they are STILL his even though he never laid eyes on the items since my oldest last wore them years before.

We've bought new clothes for our 5 year old, and our 7 year old screams and cries that we make him wear my oldest son's rags while the 5 year old gets new stuff...when we mention that he has several brand new pairs of Hanna Andersson sweats (not cheap!) that he picked out for himself he says "yeah but you'll take them and give them to him! You only wanted them for him!!"

We're worn out by this. Our 5 year old, who has mastered the morning routine and has been getting himself up, dressed, and fed every morning without much intervention now won't get dressed, and is moody and snippy in the morning. He won't put his clothes away because he insists it's a waste of time Bc his brother will just rip them out during one of his "raids." Our 7 year old has also started going thru our daughter's books and blankets to weed out what's "his." At this point he doesn't get mad at her, but comes to me all teary eyed that I've given away his baby things like he "doesn't even exist." Then he gets mad at me. He goes thru the trash to see if I've thrown away his school work, and inspects the contents of boxes that go out to make sure I've not donated any of his things. He's like a little hoarder in the making! (No, we've never suffered a loss like a fire or flood, been poor or displaced, and we've never forcefully down sized his belongings for any reason. We also don't give into tantrums, but he hasn't given them up yet nonetheless.)

I suspect he's got a larger issue (we're already in therapy for his anger/temper/tantrums) but for now, if anyone has any tips on what to do about the hand me downs I'd appreciate it. I saw the other question here that deals with resentment of a younger child, so, how about we cover the topic from the opposite perspective? How can I make this easier on my 5 year old, who just wants to get clothes on so he can go to school? I've already spoken to our therapist about this and she was stumped! She says most kids are happy to see their stuff go, or, couldn't care less.

Please don't say stop using hand me downs because with 4 kids, it's not economically feasible to purchase new clothes for all of them every season.

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    Have you considered jealousy as a motive, pure and simple? You have a new addition to the family, the first girl at that, so she probably get a lot of attention; from your three boys, the middle child is probably worst off for not being the oldest nor the youngest (boy). Can you spend some one-on-one time with him? – Little Ms Whoops Jan 31 '18 at 12:32
  • In one of my comments to an answer below you will see that he does get one on one time, as they all do, more than his "fair" share due to his personality and as part of his "treatment" (therapy). I don't mean I consider his therapy extra time. I mean, we give him extra time because he needs it. It is jealousy, in part. He's an only child personality stuck in a big family. We're doing our best to help him w/o creating problems for the rest of the kids. – Jax Jan 31 '18 at 14:31
  • The problem is, this 7 year old has the maturity of a toddler with the intellect of a 10 year old. Toddlers are unreasonable. He is unreasonable. It's his way or the highway. But, even when he's gotten his way, he still isn't satisfied, so, why bother when there's no reward in it and it creates resentment w/the others who are sick of getting tormented, bullied, harassed, picked on (by their brother) and their wants and needs placed second fiddle to someone who isn't grateful for it? He's a difficult kid. We love him tho, so we keep trying. But, he has to stop w/the clothes! – Jax Jan 31 '18 at 14:40
  • This sounds to me like he has deep feelings of injustice that's being compounded by the events you described. In addition, it's actually unfair to take away what you told him was his (e.g when he shopped in the closet) without asking for his permission. It's also unfair to force him to give this permission. – Hosam Aly Feb 1 '18 at 9:25
  • You may be able to get some cooperation if you ask him to help you with the original issue: budgeting. Play it as a game, almost similar to monopoly. Let him come up with a solution within the game and hopefully he'll see how the deal world is similar. – Hosam Aly Feb 1 '18 at 9:29
8

The statement,

At this point he doesn't get mad at her, but comes to me all teary eyed that I've given away his baby things like he "doesn't even exist."

Makes me wonder if it could be related to an anxiety or attachment issue, exacerbated by circumstances ("little" brother catching up in size; "baby" sister gets beloved artifacts; etc). I have a 6-year-old who acts like a hoarder, and who has anxiety and attachment issues. He sometimes keeps packaging, junk-mail, and other "useless" things, but the real items are school- and art-work, and cardboard boxes.

What seems to be helping is ritualizing the process of leaving these things behind, and making sure he has ample warning when getting rid of things are completely out of his control. With the boxes, we have a pretty good process. When there are more than one, he gets to pick one to keep short term (days, maybe a week), to make something out of or to play with (he makes forts, rocket ships, race cars, submarines, etc., or just paints/draws on them). When the time is up, we play with it one last time, break it down, and burn it. With clothes, books, stuffed animals, blankets, etc. they either end up in a public place (den, playroom, etc.) or he gets to give them to his little brother, or put them in the donation box.

A technique that works well for us when the hoarding/withholding gets bad/persistent, is putting a freeze on acquiring new items until something old/useless/no longer age appropriate goes.

It is also important to do these things at a low-stress time, and avoiding making them just disappear. Getting rid of things without him knowing about it is significantly harder on him. To be clear, getting rid of it isn't optional, but the when and how can be flexible on somewhat on his terms.

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    He absolutely has anxiety issues, and the attachment issue is one we are exploring. It's so weird-my mother is the same way about "stuff" becoming representative of feelings/memories (despite having a near photographic memory). It's like it skipped a generation. He doesn't even spend time with her hardly at all! (you can see why in another question here on parenting SE) – Jax Jan 30 '18 at 18:42
  • Same premise as my answer, but more concise, with a concrete solution and based on actual parenting experience. I edited my answer to point to yours :) – DrakaSAN Jan 31 '18 at 15:14
7

Disclaimer: I am not a therapist, and have no training in psychology, let alone pedopsychology.

What follows are only the impressions I have, combined with experience of growing up in a large family. If the therapist you are seeing draws a different conclusion, his should take precedence over anything I posted here.

EDIT: A answer with the same premise, but based in experience in parenting and better solution has been posted by zugzwang. I find his answer way better than mine.

Contrary to the other answer, I don't think the hand me downs are the issue, but are symptoms.

The "like [I] don't even exist." line make me think it is not just a issue about the clothes. The therapist will probably be able to dig much deeper, but I have the impression he is afraid of losing your attention.

I've seen similar (but not as extreme) behavior from my little brothers/sisters about the clothes, and it was always a symptom of a deeper issue. Especially since you already tried to buy him some clothes that are his. Also, since he is trying to hoard other things (old school works...), I suspect it may either be more a problem of recognition than a problem of owning things. Especially since it looks like his behavior started around the same time his little brother grew as tall as him.

In that case, the goal is to reassure him you don't forget him, that he is still important for you, and has always been.

Usually, parent archive the school works, or photos of their children, and I presume you did the same, it may be a good idea to (when he is calm and not thinking about this issue) have a trip down the memory lane with him. Get the photo books out of the cellar and sift through them with him, show him that even though he is not the only kid anymore, you still care about him just as much. If at the end of this, you feel it helped, you could try to reinforce and keep that feeling by, for example, displaying some of his works in the house, in places you are usually (your room, living room, desk...) so that he can see you don't intend to forget him nor throw away all reminders of him.

If you didn't (which I understand, that takes up much space), you probably have tokens that remind you of them. A photo as wallpaper of your phone, or in your wallet. You can start by this, and remind yourself of things you did together, especially if he did have a prominent place in thoses memories.

I remember reading an answer from anongoodnurse that listed other methods to help your child feel you do care for him, but I can't find it at the moment.

EDIT: When I wrote the answer, I forgot that the child was not the oldest one, it doesn't invalidate my answer, but point out that a therapist is the best answer.

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    I like this one. Another thing you could along these lines, is to get a journal for him. Help him write down things that happened during the day, have him cut out and paste pictures in the book, and basically make it his personal reminder book. – Dan Clarke Jan 30 '18 at 15:49
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    I must be honest, I was taken aback by "what ticked me off..." part of your answer. It kind of seemed like you are insinuating we don't acknowledge our son's presence or make efforts to make him feel loved. I re-read your answer without that statement (to eliminate my reaction to it) and I was able to find some valuable points, and see you are not making a grossly inaccurate assumption. – Jax Jan 30 '18 at 18:26
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    And to add some more details, I do have quite a few different methods of preserving memories/items from each child, keeping in mind we have 6 humans in 1200 sq ft. I have about 20-30 frames around the house that I put the children's artwork in, on a rotation, and my 7 yo is frequently the "featured" artist due to his talent and prolific nature. He gets one on one time on top of our rotating "date night" (time out w/us and just one kid). It's all not enough for him. – Jax Jan 30 '18 at 18:31
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    @Jax First, I apologise for the poor choice of word, I tried to say it was the part that made me think it was a deeper issue than the clothes, in no way a judgment of parenting skills. On the contrary, the fact you already sought a therapist and still try to find other ways to improve things lead me to think highly of you as a parent. I will try to find another expression to correct the meaning of that phrase. – DrakaSAN Jan 30 '18 at 19:09
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    @Dan Clarke I like the journal idea! He loves to write and draw. Perhaps I can have him draw himself wearing the clothes and tell a story about what he did wearing them. Or, take pictures of him in them "one last time" before passing them on. (Which is what we do w/the artwork and papers that don't get physically archived-we photograph them and store them on a hard drive in our fire-proof safe.) – Jax Jan 31 '18 at 14:44
5

What the Duggar family did (19/20 kids) is to abandon the idea of clothes ownership. There's a big communal closet and the kids pick out what fits.

4

I hesitate to answer this because I'd say I'm a fairly "no-nonsense" kind of person and this sounds like nonsense. It sounds to me like he is being very selfish and that's not good for you, setting a bad example for your other kids, and is going to hurt him in the long run.

Let's me set something straight though beforehand. I'm not calling you a bad parent and I hope that I don't imply it at all because this sounds like a rough issue. I talked it over with my wife and we put ourselves in the hypothetical seat and we were both pretty lost on what "the best" path is.

We all want to do well for our children and we all want to give them the best but sometimes the best also means the most economical. I applaud what you are doing. I'd find it very difficult to organize a clothes sharing method like this so kudos.

Your 7-year-old sounds like a handful. I bet he is a wonderful kid. I imagine he might be going through some emotional stress right now and that's OK. We all have our moments. He's not the oldest. He's not the youngest. He's the quintessential middle child. This can bear issues on some children.

Kids like control. My almost 7-year-old loves to do things by himself and loves to make decisions pertaining to him. Maybe your 7-year-old feels like he is losing some control in some other aspect of his life so he subconsciously is trying to enact control elsewhere where he can. Take a step back and see if you can give him some more control over certain aspects of his life.

The clothes

The fact that his younger brother is catching up to him in size can't help. My brother and I are a whole five years apart. By the time I was ready to wear his clothes, he had long forgotten about them. This isn't the case with your two youngest boys. Your 5-year-old is getting hand-me-downs that were probably worn by your 7-year-old only a couple months ago. They may still feel like they are "his clothes" despite having outgrown them.

A line should be drawn in the sand though and we could only really think of two routes to go with that.

Route 1

Stop allowing him to "shop" for new clothes from his older brother and stop purchasing new clothes for him. Tell him that since he is unwilling to share then no one else will be willing to share with him. The clothes that are currently in his possession will remain his clothes and nothing new will be added until he is willing to let go of the selfish behavior.

Remind him that during this time the 5-year-old will continually get new, non-hand-me-down clothes until a few years from now when he catches up with his brother and remind him that he is not allowed to complain about that since this is the route he has chosen to take because of his behavior.

Route 2

Put your foot down, say no, take the clothes back that he continues to steal from his brother and remind him that you purchased those clothes and they are not for him to decide who gets to wear them. Treat rebellion against this as punishable behavior with loss of privileges and timeouts.

We want our kids to like us and we want them to feel they are being treated fairly but I believe when they aren't being fair in return, it requires some authoritative intervention.

Toys

My son has a hard time letting go of toys too. I understand that. So did I. I think all kids do. Instantiate a new rule. If a new toys comes in, an old one must go. If he is unwilling to give up an old toy, the new toy gets left on the shelf and it doesn't become his possession. I recently read that this is one method for treating children with hoarding tendencies.

If he can respect that rule, then I think you won't have further issues there.

This is a tough case and I'm not even sure if my advice is sound. Good luck and I'd really like to see updates on this.

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    We very much feel like this is nonsense too, but part of our approach with our 7 year old is to not invalidate his feelings so that he will be honest about them, experience them, and learn to moderate them. (he has been turning all feelings into rage. He's emotionally immature, but brilliant.) I appreciate the thought you gave this despite your instinct. Our therapist suggested something similar to route 2 but it's put him in a tailspin Bc he's getting punished ALL THE TIME cuz he can't let this go. – Jax Jan 30 '18 at 19:34
  • @Jax that must be very hard. For him and for you. I completely understand you don’t want to invalidate his feelings. As much as we despise it sometime, you have to let them express how they feel. I hope he can learn to let it go because I know that would be a huge relief for him mentally. – SomeShinyMonica Jan 30 '18 at 21:41
2

Hopefully someone has a better idea than this, but maybe you could try to buy the clothes from the older boys. Divide the clothes by type and give each of them a price, 25 cents for shirts, 50 cents for pants, etc. Then when it's time for the boys to pick clothes, you give the kids choosing clothes some money, they pick out the clothes they want and they pay whoever last owned the clothes. Since everyone, including your baby girl will be buying something, you aren't singling out your 7 year old for special privileges. And with everyone paying for what they wear, the items aren't "his" anymore, he sold them.

Again I hope someone has a better idea that has actually been put into practice, but the change in routine might be enough kick him of this mindset.

  • Hmm. The money factor might make a difference. He is very motivated by money, but, applies the same yankee mentality to it as he does everything else: it's mine while it's mine, and if I give it to you, it's still really mine. Its worth a shot. They do have access to pocket money that is theirs. (Even the baby!) – Jax Jan 30 '18 at 18:37
  • Cool, if you think it will help in your case give it a shot. – Dan Clarke Jan 30 '18 at 22:11

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