Sibling Bullies

My son just turned 11. He has always been a very good boy, a good student and responsible, but he has one major flaw. He gets very authoritative with his brother, who is almost eight. The older one starts with a mean, bossy, intimidating voice, and if he does not get the result he wants, he progresses to hitting his brother. The majority of the time, these altercations surround chores that the eight-year-old is slow and less thorough about.

I have talked to my older son repeatedly about this. We are not spanking parents. I have told him that he never has a right to hit his brother. I have pointed out that if his brother's chores are not done, it is not a reflection on the 11-year-old, and we will deal with it. I have asked him if he is mad at someone else and taking it out on his smaller brother. Still, the 11-year-old, who everyone else thinks is a saint, is driving me crazy over this issue. He is very concerned about what others think of him and would not repeatedly disobey his teachers or grandparents, but I just cannot get through to him on this. Just last week he hit his brother because, he said, "I was bored." Now I am losing it! What can I do?


Robert Schwebel

Clinical psychologist Robert Schwebel, PhD, has been in private practice for almost 30 years, counseling children, couples and... Read more

Here are some of my thoughts:

(1) Since your older son is in general a "very good boy", and since he is 11 years old, maybe you could ask him about this hitting. In other words, instead of simply telling him not to do it, you could involve him in dealing with this. Ask him why he thinks he is bossing and hitting his younger brother, and if he thinks it is right. If he agrees it is wrong, you could talk with him about how he might develop self-control.

(2) You mentioned he gets aggressive when "he does not get the results he wants." Ask him about the results he wants, and help him think through more cooperative, less aggressive, ways of attaining his goals.

(3) I agree about your saying clearly that he never has the right to hit his brother.

(4) Sometimes "very good" children feel great pressure to always be good and do something bad to relieve the pressure.

(5) I wonder about your older son's being so good and your younger one "slow and less thorough." Does your older one feel he gets the recognition he needs? Does the younger one get more attention? Does the older one have to pick up any slack from what the younger one does not do?

These are some of my thoughts. Good luck and keep us posted.

-- Dr. Robert Schwebel

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