We have a bunk bed for the boys. We had it since they were 2 and 4. Since we got it when they were so young, we were very firm about the oldest sleeping on the top and younger one on the bottom. For a few years that was all nice and good, but over the past year and a half things started to change. The younger one wanted to be on the top, the older one, on the bottom. That was easy to arrange. They would switch occasionally and then switch back. Most recently, things were not so smooth any more.
Both boys wanted to be on the bottom. There were many reasons offered, but the most recent one was that the older one liked thinking down there and the younger one wanted to make tents out of blankets. While this was developing, the younger one was on the top bunk, and the older one was not willing to budge.
A few nights ago I sat with the boys and listened to them compromise and negotiate. It was not going smoothly: 6 yo was offering solutions and 8 yo was shooting them down, while offering his own untenable ones. 6 yo wanted to work out a switching system; 8 yo wanted to grab as much lower bunk time as possible. He was trying to tie in playing Monopoly, which his brother does not like. He was willing to switch for one night and then to revert to status quo. After listening to these negotiations going nowhere, I ordered the younger one to take the bottom bunk. 8 yo protested that he does not want to be on top. I suggested floor in a sleeping bag. He took his sweet time setting up, and then demanded to be tucked in. I said that the tucking in time has passed. He called his brother stupid and earned himself a night in the basement. Our basement is finished, and has beds. It is removed from everyone else, and I figured that's what was called for.
It took him a long time to fall asleep down there. The next morning he expressed regret at his behavior last night. I said that he still needs to work out with his brother a solution to the dilemma. That night, right after I tucked the boys in, he popped out to announce that the solution has been found: they will hold elections! I grew quite sceptical at that.
This morning, the details were fleshed out: they will vote on who gets to sleep where every four days. These four days are modeled on every four years of the presidential election, but he said that he could not wait that long. Each kid cannot vote for himself, so they will vote for each other. They are allowed to hang signs, but no campaigning in each other's bed. Whoever gets the most votes gets to sleep on the bottom.
6 sat down this morning to make his campaign signs. One had a drawing of the bunk bed with him on the bottom bunk, another said : "Vote for 8 yo". Then he wondered aloud whether he can form a super PAC. I wondered how he would do that, and realized that he referred to negative campaigning. I said that we will not do that. Then I spent the whole day thinking about how this will play out.
Now, luckily for me, both my husband and my mother-in-law were here at dinnertime when 8 yo held the elections. The boys voted for each other, 3yo voted for one of the brothers, and we grown-ups split the votes evenly. 8 yo seemed perplexed; he clearly did not envision this outcome. Bottom line, they decided to flip some coins and 6 yo lost. He did crawl into a top bunk, but he was quite upset. 8 yo suggested that just like in presidency, one is limited to two terms on the bottom bunk. 6 yo said that he just wants to have schedule worked out.
I will wait and see what happens in three days. In the meanwhile, this spontaneous exercise in democracy showed that the boys internalized election lessons and could apply them to real life. What I think they did not realize was that this situation calls for a different solution than elections. If I see unfairness taking place, I will interfere, but it would be nice if they reach the solutions acceptable to all parties on their own.