This past week we’ve had house guests, which is a fairly rare event now that there are seven of us in the house. When the three Littles first arrived 15 months ago, any guest would send the older two into what could best be described as a “tizzy.”

Our oldest (age 4) has attachment issues. They are not severe issues, but stress in the household helps them show up. Visitors provide just that sort of stress.

The challenge for me comes between having compassion for him with his fears and caring for the other members of the household. Last night, we were taking our house guests, and the older girls bowling with some friends. We had decided to take our 4-year-old with us. Because he is so on-edge, though, he was making terrible choices all afternoon. I kept warning, overlooking, offering second chances, and working with him.

Finally, just as we were about to leave, he started an argument with his 3-year-old sister. He kept bragging about how he got to go bowling. She was baiting him saying, “I get to go bowling,” although they both knew she didn’t. On edge, though, he took the bait and kept yelling back that she was not going, only he was. This all happened when I was indisposed and couldn’t intervene, although I could hear it quite well. Finally, I heard the dreaded “crack,” followed by a dramatic pause, followed by his sister’s wailing. He had pushed her, and she had lost her footing and cracked her head on something; we think it was the coffee table.

She’s fine, of course. Still, we had to make the tough decision to leave him home with Daddy and his younger siblings. He was heartbroken. It wasn’t the push that got him left at home, it was the whole lack of control beginning with the bragging. I was disappointed too; I was so looking forward to him having some fun with the bigger folk, and he is so sweet in such circumstances.

It is such a fine line to walk: compassion, on the one hand, for the circumstances of his life that have made his life seem–to him– so tenuous, and on the other hand, a true need to teach him self-control and to show him limits. He has made oh-so-much progress in the past few months, and he has his break-downs, too. It is a fine line, but it is one that I am slowly learning to draw.