Q: Since my seven-year-old was born, his nine-year-old brother has tried to hurt him emotionally. He puts him down whenever he gets a chance and treats him like he’s a disease. My younger boy’s self-esteem is suffering as a result. I’ve tried everything (time outs, taking away my older son’s favourite possessions, lots of talking).Do you have any suggestions?
A: Each of your children has a problem. Your nine-year-old feels threatened by his little brother and has felt that way for seven years. It could be that there was some typical sibling rivalry that started when your younger child was an infant and is now simply habitual. The solution is not punishment, but dealing with the problem. First, you do need to tell your older son that treating his brother unkindly is unacceptable. Then you need to make sure that he is getting the attention he needs from both parents, including one-on-one time with both of you.
One-on-one time need not be onerous. It can be as simple as five or 10 minutes when you are focused on just him. You can have him work with you in the yard or kitchen without his brother present or take just him with you when you run an errand.
Your younger child needs the same treatment. You can also engage the two in family activities like board games or yardwork with you. At that time you can be modelling how you can all be together as a family without the put-downs.