How to teach son to be good big brother & friend

nsf798July 25, 2006

I'm so fed up with my 8 year old. His little sister will be four in two weeks. She worships the ground he walks on and he is always so mean to her. I tried talking to him about it this morning and he started crying & said I was hurting his feelings. His little sister went & got him a favorite stuffed animal to make him feel better. I just don't know what to do. I have no clue what to say to him. I'm so tired of him bossing her around. He tells her how to play, what to think, what to say.

I've noticed he plays with other kids this way too. We were at the swimming pool & a good friend of his was there. But after a few hours the friend tired of my son being so bossy and wouldn't play with him anymore.

Our neighbor boy is five and he is always wanting to play with my son. My son will go & play with him for awhile, but when the neighbor stops doing whatever my son says, he gets tired of playing with him. Eventually the neighbor boy ends up playing with my daughter and they play pretty good together. That really upsets my son. And he will walk around pouting that the neighbor won't play with him.

On the fourth of July we went uptown to watch fireworks and a friend of his was there. He sat with us during the fireworks and they got along great. I think they got along so well because that kid was kind of quiet and was more of a follower, so he let my son take the lead and it didn't bother him.

I just don't know what to do. I don't know where to go for help with this. He's always had lots of friends at school. I'm afraid he's getting worse & what if he starts school (he'll be in third grade) and drives all his friends away being bossy.

Any advice?

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I'll bet there are some good children's books about that -- Little Critter, Franklin or Berenstein Bears (sp?) frequently have great books about typical childhood problems, and this problem isn't unusual at all. It could be a great way to discuss the subject with your son without 'pointing a finger' at him in particular. The children's librarian at your local library is sure to know of some good books.

There's lots of ways to work in praise with the 'lesson' -- Your son is a leader and people want to play with him, his little sister respects and admires him, etc. Just a few tips about taking turns, compromising and sharing may be all it takes.

Good luck! --

    Bookmark   July 25, 2006 at 1:39PM
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I'm just wanting to know what you are doing with my kids...

I have a boy and a girl also 4 years apart - dd is 6 and ds is 10.

    Bookmark   July 25, 2006 at 1:45PM
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The older brother/younger sister dynamic you have going is not at all uncommon. I have two good friends who have this going on and we joke that it's how dysfunctional male/female relationships get started. But as you know, it isn't a joke and it isn't good for either child.

Sweeby had a great suggestion with the books. Rather than being accusatory, it helps him understand other kids can be the same way, yet it is something he needs to work on.

Maybe you can approach him on a good day in a lighthearted way. Tell him you are concerned that his sister is becoming too much of a follower and you would like to enlist his help. Challenge him to play with his sister for twenty minutes (or even 10 minutes) doing whatever she wants to do. Then give him positive reinforcement. Sometimes with kids giving them a responsibility is the best way to help them break a bad habit.

    Bookmark   July 25, 2006 at 2:28PM
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In my experience, kids that age don't really grasp theoretical models of ideal behavior too well. Saying "you're too bossy" will tend to make them upset without them really understanding what you're saying or how to change. You might try giving concrete suggestions immediately before and during a playdate. Something like "Joe (your son), I want you to give Bob some chances to decide what game to play when he comes over". Then check in on them a few times during the playdate and say "Did Bob get a chance to choose a game yet?". After repeating a few times, little Joe should catch on.

I know my DD used to be close with a couple other kids, but stopped playing with them when they got too bossy. It can definitely isolate the bossy kids, but on the plus side that personality trait will do well for them in the adult world when properly tempered.

    Bookmark   July 25, 2006 at 4:15PM
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I would suggest lots of family games involving turn taking.
Also, set up regular simple choice opportunities where DD and DS get to alternate choosing (eg what afternoon tea will we have today? what DVD will we watch?)
When friends come to play you may need to plan on VERY short visits (eg 1 hr at the most) where you directly involve yourself in guiding a game or play situation where they share. Put expectation down prior to the visit- eg when Jordan comes over I want you to ask him what game he would like to play because he is your guest. When this goes well, praise using specifics "I noticed how you asked Jordan what game he wanted to play" (after the other child leaves).

I don't know your situation, but is it possible that DS has learnt the behaviour from either you or DH? eg are one of you his role model? Make your own friendly behviours loud and obvious- eg ask DH what would he like to watch on TV, you've had your turn wathcing XYZ.

DD- I would model to her the language of assertive behviour and when it is just the two of them tell her to say "It's my turn to choose now" or "I don't like it when you speak to me that way". Practice situation with her- if this happens what could you do/say?

I would also recommend approaching his teacher for ideas.

    Bookmark   July 26, 2006 at 8:13AM
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I dunno--this sounds like pretty typical sibling behavior to me--how is he with his peers? I mean kids that are closer to his own age? 7-10 year olds? Observe him there. If he is still a bossy-boots...then you may want to help him with his social skills. Otherwise--I think most 8 y/o children will boss around a four or five y/o.

Does the younger child perceive his behavior as mean? Or do YOU? There's a difference! If little sis is ok with it--and he's not physically harming her...or asking her to do dangerous or demeaning things...

I'd stay out of it.

At our house we had a "no blood no foul" law going. I only intervened when things got to looking dangerous. My boys are as different as can be--but Elder Son usually directed play with The Boy. Not a mean bone in Elder Son's body--but he still ran things. It's one of the perks of being the "big brother." There are three years between my two...and there was very little fighting. They shared toys pretty well...but Elder Son was usually "in charge." They are now not-quite 18 and not-quite 21--and even though Elder Son is a physics-major-geek (will be a Senior in college this fall)--and The Boy is a "cool" guy who starts his freshman year doing a BFA this fall--they still enjoy each other's company.

That's my take on the whole sibling thing--but then, I was the oldest of that may play into my perspective! I am not-qutie two years older than my brother, ten years between me and my sister--12 between me and my baby sister. DH is the oldest of five--so we probably had a more rough and tumble "hands off" parenting style than many folks. The kids seem to have turned out ok!


    Bookmark   July 26, 2006 at 10:05AM
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Thanks for all the suggestions! There is a lot of great advice & I wrote a few things done so I wouldn't forget. I agree that this is probably pretty typical behavior for an older brother, younger sister. But after seeing him with a friend at the pool, and the way he is with the neighbor boy, I was very concerned.

I've tried to "stay out of it" when ds & dd aren't getting along, and let them try to work it out, but I just think that dd shouldn't have to take his abuse just to have his attention. I don't mean abuse, but put up with him, I guess is what I mean.

    Bookmark   July 26, 2006 at 12:32PM
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Dear nsf798,

You don't know me, soforgive me for putting in my two cents. I don't have the problem you are having, I've got two girls who are 9 and 7 and they are very good friends and though they have their struggles they play together very well. I will say that they have very different personalities and that though the elder gets/deserves many perks for her maturity the younger one is more forward and agressive and often gets what she wants by being so pushy.

I really agreed with paigct's comment that enlisting your son to help your younger daughter is one way to handle this, but I also kind of agree with whoever posted that what appears to be a problem from your point of view might not be from the little sisters point of view.

That being said, I want to recommend two fantastic books by Nancy Samalin (don't know her and am not connected to her). At least I think they are both by her but on reflection I think one isn't. The first one is How to talk so children will listen and how to listen so children will talk. I found taht really invalable (more so as my children got older) in helping me think through the dynamics of an interaction before I got started, and also in helping me think about modeling solutions rather than talking about problems. Another great book, and I'm sure this is by samalin, is "loving each one best" a book about siblings. And the last great book is called "raising the optimistic child" or "raising an optimistic child." This is a great book for working with children on problem solving rather than blaming. It makes a good read along with "how to talk..."

I guess what I'm trying to say is that 1) your son sounds like he is having a burgeoning problem with kids his age; 2) he may or may not have a problem with his little sister but you certainly have one with the way he is treating her; 3) some of these problems could be addressed by working with him on common courtesy.

I have had the intersting experience of driving someone else's kids to summer camp for a week. What amazed me is that things that seemed to come naturally to my daughters simply had never even occured to the two little girls I'm now driving. Sharing a snack? forget it. Both of them stuffed their mouths for the entire drive without ever offering my girls a taste--even as my daughters instantly and courteously offered their snacks for sharing. Saying hello and goodbye to us in the morning and afternoon? forget it, it simply never occured to them. Thanking me for driving? apparently that was also inconceivable. The difference in age between me and these girls is considerable (some 40 years) but I'm as courteous to them as I would be to another adult. Which is by way of saying that I think the excuse that your son is 4 years older than his sister so he naturally gets to boss her around is, well, not right. You want him to have good manners whatever the age or station of the person he's with. Perhaps helping him see that close relations (whether family or friend) don't excuse bad behavior is the way to go.

just my two cents

    Bookmark   July 26, 2006 at 10:41PM
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abfab, thanks for your two cents.
I'll definately get those books. And I agree that just because he's the big brother doesn't mean he gets to be mean to her. Most of the time it doesn't bother her, but you're right, it does bother me. He will flat out tell her, if you don't do blank, I won't play with you (usually followed by Ever Ever Again). And while I realize this is probable normal behavior, I would like to learn what I can do/say to teach him this is not acceptable behavior. I'm just finding that I don't know what to say to help him understand. Telling him to be nice to his sister all the time, I'm afraid, is telling him that he's not nice.

    Bookmark   July 27, 2006 at 1:41AM
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I forgot to say that I actually have an older brother, older by two years. We fought and struggled and lord knows he humiliated me (in minor, kidly ways, by always being right) all through our childhood but when we were in highschool, for some reason, we became really best friends and allies. We've stayed tht way ever since and we are both very attached and proud of each other. So the dynamic you are seeing now really may not last forever. Four years is a huge difference at that age, but as they get older and when they get into their important teen years four years may be just enough to make him her protector and advisor (and make him old enough to play those roles) in a natural way.

I'm sure you are going to work through this and be able to enjoy their interactions, you sound like you really understand them and also understand how important your lightest criticism is to them.


    Bookmark   July 27, 2006 at 7:52AM
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Is it possible that he has a naturally assertivee personality (not that I know anyone like that. Ahem.), and he has learned that it helps him get his way so he is pushing the boundaries and taken it to far? There is a difference between being a leader (which is a good thing, at least I think so) and being a bully. Maybe he just hasn't figured out the boundary yet.

As far as your daughter goes, she caves in to him, but does she cave into other kids as well? Maybe she defers to him because he is the much-loved older brother, but she wouldn't defer that way to another kid.

If she lets everyone boss her around I would be more worried for her than for him. If she is a pushover to everyone that won't serve her well.

I found your post to be very interesting. You said that what came naturally for your daughters did not come naturally to the other girls. I think you should give yourself more credit! You probably are a good example for them, so they picked that up and now treat others with kindness and respect. The other girls are probably doing what they have seen.

    Bookmark   July 27, 2006 at 12:51PM
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You are too kind. I am afraid that my daughters are way, way, more civilized than me and certainly more generous and polite to each other than my brother and I were to each other at the same age. I'd love to take credit for them but I think nature, not nurture, is the key.


    Bookmark   July 27, 2006 at 8:03PM
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But if nature is the key, doesn't that point to you as well? :)

    Bookmark   July 27, 2006 at 10:34PM
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I have a daughter who started life as "the boss." When I heard her play with friends, she was always directing whatever they did in the most bossy manner. I couldn't figure out how anyone stuck with her until I was sitting in the kitchen with one of her 8 year old friends. She looked at me rather rather wistfully and said "I just love playing with Christine. She has such good ideas."

At 33, she is still the leader of almost any group she joins. She still has good ideas, enthusiasm and a natural ability to lead. She has learned how to present her plans so that everyone wants to follow. She has such a gentle manner now that the rough edges have been smoothed. Even her younger siblings defer to her willingly, and her father is one of her greatest admirers.

    Bookmark   July 28, 2006 at 8:10AM
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What a great story, Sharon! Truly, it's inspiring to watch a great leader work.

In the last company I worked for before striking out on my own, one of the VPs was a great leader (actually, several were) and also a politician, mayor of his town. I particularly remember one meeting, where achieving a key company goal meant several high-power departments would have to make major changes and sacrifices, and take direction from a low-status department. Finding the solution wasn't difficult, but getting all of the various egos on board and in agreement was a finely-tuned dance. Just watching how this VP brought everyone together, balancing the needs of each dept. head and making them feel like heros and team players -- it was inspiring.

OP - If your son can learn this the way Sharon's daughter did, and the way this VP did, then the sky's the limit!

    Bookmark   July 28, 2006 at 10:08AM
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Okay Sharon, where are you? I'm sending him over!

    Bookmark   July 28, 2006 at 11:36AM
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