Can't we all just get along? Why is it that a 21 year old brother, an 18 year old brother, and a 12 year old brother can't ride in the same vehicle without a major altercation breaking out?  These are my sons, by the way.

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I agree that almost all siblings argue. The cramped quarters of a car will often bring out any personality clashes. I find we are less willing to forgive the flaws (or perceived flaws) in our siblings because we have to live with them. When there is no escape from something that bugs you, it just gets more and mo annoying. I would hope the two older boys would be in better control of themselves. Surely they could set the example for the youngest.
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The pecking-order explanation makes a lot of sense in terms of evolutionary psychology, but so does the testosterone explanation. Is there an element of teasing to any of this, or is it quite serious? I notice that two of our godkids love to rib each other now that they are teenagers; a lot of it seems good-natured, but the situation you describe sounds as if it may not be.

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It is a paradox that you can't get along with those you love the most, yet interactions between brothers seem to suggest this to be the case. As one of two brothers as well, my brother and I never got on when we were growing up. But it does pass-hopefully!

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Absolutely, put one of the older boys behind the wheel. When you're on a long trip, give another one responsibility for navigation - turn off the GPS and get out the map!

In the meantime, is there any pattern or common problem in the battles? Friends of mine used even and odd dates to determine who sat in which seat position (only two kids in that family so you'd need to adjust for your purposes) - if there's a common theme, is there some way you can devise a plan for defusing it before it starts?

It's hard to believe when the battle is raging, I know, but you are fortunate to still have children that old at home and willing to get in the car with you!

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I'm wondering if you are usually driving the car. You might want to let one of the older boys take the wheel, so at least one of them will be focused on something besides arguing. Then you may also be able to freer to referee whatever disputes may still arise.

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I'd say just as a guess that they have a history of arguing. If they have always been that way and are used to acting like this, when they get back together it might bring back old habits. There's also something confrontational about cars. Everyone's a backseat driver! Also, people are bored and have nothing to do but nag each other.
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That is a great question. All dynamics are different, but I bet the cramped quarters of the car adds to the difficulties. Here are two suggestions that might help. First, model tolerance and kindness and have all the adults do the same. This can help. Second, have a talk with the oldest child and ask him to take ownership of setting an example to his younger siblings.

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Goes back to Cain and Abel, right?  As one of 4 brothers, I attribute it to testosterone poisoning.  I think that we guys at that kind of age can't help but try to establish pecking orders all the time.  The fights come, I think, because no one wants to back down and show a lack of dominance.

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