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MommaWeller
MommaWeller asks:
Q:

How do I stop my 5 yr old from bulling our 14 month old?

Our 5 year old (I) thinks it's 'ok' to push, hit, smack, throw things at, and just plain bully our 14 month old baby(L). He knows its wrong because immediately after hurting L, he sits himself in timeout and says "sorry, sorry, sorry" over and over. we've tried everything we can think of...  Please... Help?!?
In Topics: Bullying and teasing, Discipline and behavior challenges
> 60 days ago

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Expert

Hand in Hand
Mar 31, 2009
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What the Expert Says:

Dear MommaWeller:

Good for you for trying everything! And yes, your son does know right from wrong. He doesn't want to be hurting his sibling at all. He doesn't know what comes over him. He's a good boy, in spite of this behavior.

What happens inside him is this. Under certain circumstances, he loses an all-important sense of being connected to you. Children can only be sensible when they have that sense of connection: it's like an invisible tie between you and him, or any other adult watching over him. When he can tell he's loved and that someone can pay attention to him if he needs them, he'll be able to think. But when he loses that sense of connection, his midbrain shuts off any connection with his prefrontal cortex, where his impulses are governed, and where he knows right from wrong. His brain literally goes haywire.

What often happens with older siblings, and younger ones too, is that when they see you paying attention to the other child, or paying attention to a phone call, or to cooking, or to anything else but them, their midbrain floods with feelings. What feelings these are is different for every child, but often, it's something like, "I don't have my parent's attention! How will I survive without it?! I've got to fight for my life here, to get some attention, because I just can't think!" and off they go, doing something that will bring you. Their brain is starved for a sense of connection.

What we usually do is to punish a child, or lecture him, or put him in a time-out. These are time-honored ways of dealing with aggression, but they don't really work well, because they don't deal with the child's emotional needs, and they frighten a child further, and separate him from the connection he so desperately needs.

What we suggest is this: set a limit by moving in (without saying much at all) as a child begins to become aggressive, trying to be nearby so that he doesn't manage to hurt anyone. Just move in and stop the action yourself--don't expect him to stop it. Hold his arms (gently, but firmly) or put your hand on the block he's about to throw. Then, make eye contact with him (or try to--children who can't feel a connection with you have a very hard time making eye contact. Offer, and see what happens, don't insist that he look at you. Just offer, and keep offering). Stay close, and let him fight and struggle. Keep yourself safe, and stay with him.

We call this Staylistening. Your child will scream, fight, cry, thrash. He'll do this for a long time. It's a process that gets all the yucky, "I'm desperate for attention" feelings out of his system. If you stay with him, and tell him gently, "I'm going to stay with you. I can't let you hurt anyone. I want to stay with you. I see that you don't feel good." You pour in connection. He pours out feelings. As he shows you his terrible feelings, they leave his mind. When he's finished (it could be 20 minutes or more) he will feel MUCH better, much closer to you, and will be much less inclined to be hard on his brother.

Here's an article that describes this process, and how it works. It's hard to do for the parent, because we've always thought of children who are wildly emotional as "bad" or somehow "deficient," but it works SO much better than anything else, because you are actually filling a need that is driving him nuts.

Give this a try. We have lots of other success stories on the website mentioned below, and a booklet called "Reaching for your Angry Child" available there, as part of a set of booklets on dealing with children's feelings.

You have a good little boy there, trapped in some big upsets. He'll work his way out, if you can Staylisten.  It's so good you are reaching out for help and ideas.

Yours,

Patty Wipfler
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Additional Answers (3)

shiv
shiv writes:
by scaring him
> 60 days ago

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Anonymous
Anonymous writes:
This sounds a bit like our household, with a few differences.  Our youngest, age 2, who is quite verbal already, pushes, shoves, kicks, throws things, and bullies all his siblings and adults too, he even hurts people, and then the 6 year old (S) hurts the little one in return.  S also thinks it's 'ok' to push, hit, kick, smack, throw things at, and just bully the 2 year old (T), but S says it's self defense and does not say sorry, ever. We have not yet figured out how to deal with the baby's bullying, but about the older boy: taking him aside, talking to him, holding him firmly but gently, as the expert answer says, works, but with other techniques added.  We also listen carefully to the 6 year old's complaints about the 2 year old, and tell him we understand his situation, that he has a fear of getting hurt by objects or being hit or pushed by his little brother.  We talk to S with respect, take him seriously, and we discuss with S how to correct the baby brother's behavior.  But half the time, it is really S's fault . . .  outbursts of jealousy, or the 6 year old grabs the baby's toys, or yells at T, or calls him names.  We emphasize that S, as the older brother, should set a good example, and that might help the little one learn.  We also emphasize brotherly love, too and how he would feel bad if T ended up badly hurt.
> 60 days ago

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creatorofgoogle
creatorofgo... writes:
As a mother I think you should tell your 5 year old that it isn't nice to buly your brother especially a younger one. You should tell him that he is too young and you will hurt him if you continue acting this way. BUT, don't punish him because it will just make him more angry and more violent. Just tell him how he would feel if his brother was bullying him teh same way he was bullying his brother. Make him think about how he'd feel if his sibling hurt him and get said sorry but kept doing it again. He must know that bullying your sibling isn't a good thing to do.
> 60 days ago

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