Written by Doctor G

Mean Girls at Home?

sisters free


Sibling fighting btw two girls, 6 & 9…what to do when younger is really mean to older?

Lisa, on Facebook

This is so painful, Lisa. As I’ve mentioned before, all siblings fight. However, this does not mean that “mean” is acceptable! It sounds like you are being really clear-headed and brave, and noticing that one of your children is bullying another at times.

There is a big difference between bickering and bullying. Most parents are very hesitant to label bullying behavior in our own homes because it feels like admitting failure. That is NOT true! Most kids try out bullying as a normal part of their development. What matters is how we react and what they learn.

It happens surprisingly often that a younger child tries to bully an older one. This has to do with personality differences, family roles and perhaps some birth order chemistry that psychologists all disagree about. And, lets be honest, when you’re watching it at home, who cares what got them to this point! You just want to end it!

Your younger child wants to feel “grown up.” She is looking for equality (or superiority) with her older sister. Fine! Give her some equality. And let her earn the rest.

Give her some equality:

  1. Equal expectations. It’s annoying to be “the baby” but it protects her as well. Make a family code of conduct (get the girls and your parenting partner to help). Same rules for everyone.
  2. Equal opportunity. She has the same chance as her older sister to explain her “side” in a disagreement and must listen and answer her sister’s complaints as well.
  3. Equal consequences. Bullying is never ok, and she will get the same punishment her sister would for poor behavior.

Let her earn some privileges:

  1. Chances are your older sister has some opportunities your younger one wants and believes she deserves. Ask her to make a list.
  2. Point out to her the behaviors you’ve seen that you don’t respect.
  3. Connect eliminating those behaviors to earning some of the privileges she’d like to have. Be sure to write down how long you need to see the excellent behavior before you’ll review the privileges.

It’s completely up to you, Lisa, how much you bring your older daughter into the conversation about your younger daughter’s improvements. Don’t give your older one any of the decision-making, though. That will just breed resentment.

Your 6 year old is trying out her power. That is a developmentally normal thing to do. Be explicit with your girls about the skills (kindness, empathy, respect, sticking up for oneself, etc) that you want them to build. Tell them what you respect and admire and they will put more effort into achieving that!

How else do you all deal with bullying at home? It happens in almost every household. Do you name it if you see it?

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