Q: My 10-year-old teases his eight-year-old brother about his stutter. I have talked to my older son about it and he’s very apologetic, but when they fight, he teases him again. How do I stop this?
A: Words become weapons in conflicts. The insults can just as easily be “four eyes” or “zit face,” or any other number of personal attacks. Your older son wants to hurt his brother for some reason and is acting out. No doubt your younger son has his own arsenal of weapons. His tactics may not be as apparent or offensive to you. He might not be a teaser, but he might kick or refuse to share, or tattle and get his brother in trouble. Often the sore spot between siblings is that one feels the other is preferred.
The point is this: At ages 10 and eight, your sons are equally matched in their ability to bug one another — or to get along. They have to come to the realization that they, not you, are the caretakers of their relationship.
Here are two actions you can take:
Remove yourself. When the teasing begins, say, “I’m leaving, I don’t want to be around to hear things like that.” Without you as audience or defender, the dynamics change quickly.
Coach instead of punish. Rather than stepping in and punishing the teaser, focus on the “teasee.” Ask him, “Why do you think your brother teases you? Could it be he’s trying to get your goat?” Offer the idea that maybe he could try not being upset. By not caring, the “teasee” is deflating the power of the words, he will defeat his brother at his I’m-going-to-upset-you game — and his brother will stop.