Should I separate my son from his cousin when she aggravates him?

Question  posted  by  a  visitor  after  reading  "Raising  a  Sensitive Child"( aising _Sensitive_Child)
i just read your article and it helped explained some of the behavior my son at age 6 is experiencing. When he is around his cousin she tends to aggravate him by staring at him or copying everything he says and he gets very emotional about it to crying out loud or if he gets scolded he cries about that because they laugh at him, should i keep him away from them for a while or seperate them?
In Topics: Discipline and behavior challenges, Parenting siblings
> 60 days ago



Hand in Hand
Aug 7, 2009
Subscribe to Expert

What the Expert Says:

Dear Parent:

This is an excellent question! Should you not interfere, on the idea that "he's got to learn to fend for himself!" or should you remove him from a situation, protecting him from what he doesn't feel he can handle, but perhaps making it hard for him to learn necessary lessons about sticking up for himself?

I think a caring parent will do a couple of things in this situation. First, to understand that it doesn't really help a child to be left to struggle in an overwhelming situation. It sounds like these times with his cousin really do overwhelm him, emotionally. And her actions are actually unkind. Many parents don't know that the child who is being unkind or who is mocking is also hurting on the inside, and it's hard on that child to be allowed to continue to upset someone. So, in the end, both children are hurting, one silently, and one out loud.

One basic idea that I think will help is to know that children are much better able to play well when both feel connected to the adult in charge. So playing with both of them for ten or fifteen minutes at the beginning of an interaction may help the cousin feel closer to you, and may help keep her flexible and cooperative in play. The kinds of play that help connect children with one another are described in our booklet, Playlistening, which is part of a booklet set called Listening to Children. You set up play in which they can playfully be stronger, swifter, smarter than you. So maybe you set up a chase game, and they both get away over and over again. Or you start a little pillow fight, and when they throw a pillow, you fall over, whether it hits you or not. Children laugh consistently when they can "win" over a clumsy adult, and they tend to feel like they're on the same team, building trust between them, and building their sense that they like one another. Any kind of physical play is good for this--horsie rides, tag, "I've got ten kisses for whichever kid I can catch! Here it come!" is good...that kind of thing.

But if and when her snippy behavior comes around again, you can step in and help. If your son is crying, stay right by him, make eye contact, and tell him you'll help him figure out what to do. But don't do anything beyond that. Stay. Listen to his feelings. Now and then, ask him what he wants to tell his cousin. Keep him from hitting or hurting, but keep him there with her. He needs to cry to get the confusion out of his mind! When children's feelings are hurt, they feel confused and helpless. Those feelings keep them from being able to talk, reason, and work things out. Listening to those feelings helps a child unload the bad feelings, and then, most children are pretty good at figuring out how to handle another child's challenging behavior. So do what we call "Staylistening," and keep reassuring him that his cousin wants to play, she just doesn't feel great at the moment. And that he can talk with her. He can figure it out.

With her, if she continues to be wedded to hurtful, provocative behavior, you can move in and look at her. Touch her. Say, "I'm not going to let you do any more of that--it's not a good way to play, Sweetie." That's all. Don't scold. Don't punish. Just say, "I'm going to stop you now." And stay, and offer eye contact, and some warmth. She's a good child, just feeling very off-center at the moment, for some reason.

If you are calm enough, she will begin to be able to feel the tension that is causing that icky behavior, and may begin to cry that she wants to go home, or wants her Mommy, or tell you some other feeling of upset. These are the feelings that were driving her icky attempts at play. If she can cry with your support, she'll offload the feelings that were bothering her, and she'll be much better able to play and have fun afterward (and incidentally, she'll probably feel closer to you, if you've been able to kindly listen until she felt better.) It's not widely known, but a good cry in the arms of someone who won't get upset with you is a child's fastest road back to sunny, reasonable behavior. In a way, a good cry is like a sneeze--it clears out the gunk. It is a little messy, inconvenient, and a good cry lasts a lot longer than a big sneeze. But it works to clear a child's mind of lingering upset, and helps them feel like themselves again, IF you stay to support them while they do it. You're not agreeing with her behavior. You're staying to fish for the warm, playful child trapped underneath bad feelings and icky behavior.

More about this way of allowing children to work through the feelings that bother them and disrupt their behavior, so they can think and function much better, is in the set of booklets below.

I hope this helps. You've got two good children there. They both want to be able to play well. There are just some nettlesome feelings in the way!


Patty Wipfler

Did you find this answer useful?
Answer this question


You are about to choose ${username}'s answer as the best answer.

Cancel | Continue

*You can change the best answer in the future if you think that you received a better answer

How likely are you to recommend to your friends and colleagues?

Not at all likely
Extremely likely