What Can You do When an Older Child is Mean to Their Younger Sibling?

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As a parent of two young boys, I never could have imagined the stubbornness of our oldest when it comes to tormenting the youngest. It’s not always bad, and they can be really sweet together a lot of the time, but when it goes south, it’s near impossible to find peace.

But, after plenty of practice, there are effective strategies that can help.

1. Understand the Cause

I know, this sounds like a big “L” right off the bat. I’m not saying to do this “in the moment.” It’s near impossible to get any logical conversation in the moment.

But when things are calm, try to understand why the older child feels they must behaving in such a manner. You probably don’t want to suggest anything (and rather let them do the talking), but it could be due to jealousy, needing attention, or simply not knowing how to express their feelings appropriately.

2. Set Clear Boundaries

It’s a fine line, right? I know in our household it’s impossible to stop the wrestling and roughhousing, but without clear boundaries, things can easily go too far.

So, try and establish and enforce clear rules about acceptable behavior. Make sure the older child knows that play wrestling may be OK, but being mean spirited, overpowering, and bullying – either physically or verbally – is not acceptable and explain the consequences of such behavior.

3. Foster Empathy

Every moment is a learning experience, right? This particular situation might be the best way to introduce and foster empathy.

Encourage the older child to see things from their sibling’s perspective. This can be done through conversation, role-playing, or reading stories that focus on feelings and empathy.

It’s tough, no doubt. One thing that has helped us is to talk about the times at school when our older child felt like he was being treated unkindly by another student. Remind the older child about the effects of bullying and why it’s harmful. This can be an eye-opener for some children.

4. Spend Quality Time

It’s heartbreaking to think about the situation like this, but sometimes the older child just might feel left out or that they aren’t getting enough attention or the same amount of attention they used to.

Through their treatment of the younger sibling, they might be trying to “punish” them for how they’re feeling, or might be trying to win your attention, good or bad.

You can even try and engage in activities that both children enjoy and can do together. This can help build a stronger bond between them.

5. Teach Conflict Resolution

There are two major situations where the older child is mean to their younger sibling, right? One of them might just be out of the blue where they are just stirring something up. The other is when there is a disagreement or conflict.

Read More: Helping Kids Deal With Giving Away Pets

For the ladder, help the older child learn how to resolve conflicts in a healthier way. This includes using words to express feelings, listening to others, and finding compromises.

6. Engage in Positive Reinforcement

Stemming from the above, if and when they find Acknowledge and praise the older child when they are kind or helpful to their sibling. Positive reinforcement can encourage good behavior.

In the end, if the behavior is persistent or severe, it might be helpful to consult a child psychologist or counselor. They can provide tailored strategies and support.

Also, don’t forget that children often mimic the behavior they see. Make sure you’re modeling respectful and kind behavior in your own interactions.

Altogether, each child and family situation is unique, so it may take some time to find the approach that works best for your family. Patience and consistent effort are key.

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