Older siblings repeatedly hurting/being mean to younger ones. - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 5 Old 02-22-2006, 12:29 AM - Thread Starter
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I can't post this in Gentle Discipline, as I want to hear from others, who may be a bit firmer with discipline.

For the most part, I am very respectful and cooperative with my children. Many times I have had long discussions with dh, with an attempt to work on keeping our house a peaceful, happy place, which is respectful of each individual's needs, and 99% of the time we have just that.

However, something is bothering me very deeply. My background is that of being the youngest child, with two older brothers. The middle brother was terrible to me, growing up, and the oldest would join him, probably in hope that he wouldn't turn on him. I am talking about physical abuse, hitting teasing, constant badgering etc. It went on throughout the teen years, and to some degree even into the adult years. Some of you may remember a post I made awhile ago about ongoing extended family issues.

Needless to say, I have zero tolerance for bigger children being aggressive and mean to younger children. My oldest dd is very active, aggressive, impulsive and has little patience. When she is in her aggressive mode, she reminds me very much of my brother. I have been very loving with her, and I feel strongly that I have created an extremely strong bond with her, and feel positive that she will grow into a fine person. However, she is now 2 1/2, and as we all know that age doesn't yet bring much logic and comprehension. She is often rough with her baby sister, who is gentle and passive. She takes toys, from her, pushes her, and is sometimes very jealous when baby sister gets a moment of attention from me or dh. I realize that all these behaviors are normal...but I just can't stand to see the sadness in my baby's eyes when her big sister has just hurt her, or taken her toy. There are other times (most of the time) that she is so loving and gentle towards her baby sister.

Not all of her aggression is mean...she just gets so active and out of control that she doesn't realize she is hurting her baby sister. She sometimes even starts jumping, banging into me or dh. She will become persistent about doing something like sitting in my lap while I am on the computer. She just won't take "no" for an answer, and she becomes rougher and rougher until she either gets her way or I get up and leave the room.

My question to you experience mamas is...How can I protect my youngest from this child? It just doesn't seem right to take the long, patient road, when each day brings more harm to the baby.

Please offer me your suggetions.

I don't want this thread to turn into a debate about discipline styles, which is why I posted on the main parenting board, rather than Gentle Discipline. I welcome all stories and suggestions, and would hope that people can understand this.
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#2 of 5 Old 02-22-2006, 01:00 AM
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I look forward to hearing the replies. I am in a similar spot with my two kids. DD (2.5+) is active and controlling (of course, it is normal, but so hard!) and I have a hard time keeping my DS (10 months) free from her outbursts, swats, steals, rolls, squishes, and knocks. The unintentional ones (most of them) don't bother me as much as the intentional hits, knock-downs, and a few kicks. I find myself occasionally having to restrain myself from delivering a swat along with choking back an all-so-logical "we don't hit in this family!" yell. I guess I am the same as her, with a little more social practice and restraint. Nothing I do seems to be helping. I hope to learn from the OP's question...

Stacy-- Wife to my DH, mom to three: noodle girl:, Lego boy , little guy :
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#3 of 5 Old 02-22-2006, 03:23 PM
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I think you are having such a hard time with this because you are not only looking at this situation as a mother protecting her baby but also as the little girl who was abused by her older sibs and there was no one to protect you. I can relate to that. My brother and I had a very abusive relationship from both sides. When I see my kids get physical, it causes me to overreact because I assume they are on their way down a slippery slope. Seeing your dd react in ways that remind you of your brother is a trigger for you. Then behaviors that are "normal" for a two year old and many could dismiss become unbearable. I think if you can find someone to talk with about your pain/fear etc you will be able to approach it in a different light.

With that said, You do need to keep your baby safe. Try to be present for all of their physical ineractions. If they are on the floor you are on the floor. That way you can stop any violence and model gentle interactions. When you can't be in the middle, wear your little one. Another trick that has worked for us is to have the older dd have a special place where her special toys are only for her. I hope that helps.
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#4 of 5 Old 02-22-2006, 03:46 PM
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That's tough, we've btdt wrt sibling aggression. I spent a lot of time just trying to find the right response to end my oldest dd's aggression: time-outs, behavior charts, the stern voice that says "you may not hit people", and probably more that I can't think of at the moment. None of it helped us. What it took me a long time to understand is that people always have a reason for doing what they do. It might be a really simple reason like "I want to see what happens" or it might be more complicated like a child feeling jealous of a sibling but not knowing how to express it other than hitting. And sometimes people aren't fully aware of their reasons. So in order for me to help my child change, I have to try to understand why she's doing what she's doing. Maybe she needs more attention, and we can reduce hitting in a preventive way by spending more time with her one-on-one. Maybe she loves to play roughly and we can help her find more appropriate ways to play roughly. Maybe she's jealous, and needs more one-on-one time to reassure her that we love her as much as ever. Or any number of reasons. "When you plant lettuce, if it does not grow well, you don't blame the lettuce. You look into the reasons it is not doing well. It may need fertilizer, or more water, or less sun. You never blame the lettuce. Yet if we have problems with our friends or our family, we blame the other person. But if we know how to take care of them, they will grow well, like lettuce. Blaming has no positive effect at all, nor does trying to persuade using reason and arguments. That is my experience. No blame, no reasoning, no argument, just understanding. If you understand, and you show that you understand, you can love, and the situation will change." -Thich Nhat Hanh

Another thing that helped us was simple physical prevention. If I thought there was a chance baby could be hit, baby was always within arms reach and a close eye kept on sibling interactions so I could intervene and prevent aggression when I saw it coming. Or baby was in the sling/backpack. With the older kids, if there was a hitting problem then the kids were pretty much never more than a few feet away from me or they were playing separately.

When it comes to responding to a child that has just been aggressive, what has worked best in our family has been to get down to that child's level and explain why we want people in our family to be gentle. For my 2 year old it's "ooh, that hurt brother. I want you to be gentle with him. Stay safe, be gentle" while (if necessary) demonstrating gentle touch. When it comes to unintentional hurts (like when they're wrestling) I just call their attention to it: "that hurt him. That tells me that it's time to be more gentle. Play is fun when no one is hurt." I do talk about my own feelings too: "I feel worried (or scared-that's honest b/c their is some fear) when I see you hitting your brother, because I need everyone in our family to be safe. Please be gentle. If you are upset, talk to me with your words and we can work it out."

When I'm faced with a difficult issue with my kids, asking the following questions helps: Why is my child doing this? Am I perceiving it correctly? (is there some pattern of thought or memory or old conditioning preventing me from seeing things objectively?) What do I want my child to do? Why do I want my child to do it, what do I want her motivation to be? Is what I want my child to do possible for her given her age and understanding? Is there another way I can teach her to handle it?
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#5 of 5 Old 02-22-2006, 11:38 PM - Thread Starter
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Thanks so much for your wonderful, thoughtful replies. I have read them over several times, and have taken each thought to heart. I agree that much of the problem lies in my perception and how it relates to my past.

I am happy to say that today was a much better day, and my sweet was shining at her best. It makes me so happy to see them getting along!

Thanks again.
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