Education and Counseling for Individuals Affected by Oppositional Defiant Disorder and ADHD

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Tips on How to Stop Sibling-Bullying

I have been listening and reading through your material and, so far, I am impressed. With a degree in special education, I have taken several behavioral management courses over the years and I have read several books. This material seems to be written specifically for my family! My son is 13 and the oldest of 5. I definitely notice a difference in my son's behavior when we focus more on the positive and state expectations clearly and specifically.

My husband and I struggle with the ability to remain calm when the actions of my son affect our other 4 children. I try not to blame or accuse because that just leads to an argument and denial. I have tried pointing out to my son that he is tired and perhaps should stay away from his siblings who are "annoying" him until he is not so irritable. However, my son continues to aggravate and instigate which most of the time leads to someone getting hurt physically and/or emotionally. My question is: How do I keep a poker face and redirect or remove my child from a situation that he is hurting others when he simply does not listen?? After I have tried several attempts, I often lose my temper...which is exactly what he wants!! Should I just remove my other children from the situation and try to ignore my son?

My husband and I will continue to read over and listen to your material. I have every confidence that this program will work for us. It says what I have been saying for child is not is his behavior that needs to be addressed and he needs help in learning how make better choices.

Thank you,



Hi J.,

Re: … my son continues to aggravate and instigate.

While it may be common for siblings to fight, it's certainly not pleasant for anyone in the house. And a family can only tolerate a certain amount of conflict.

Keep in mind that sometimes children fight to get a parent's attention. In that case, consider taking a time-out of your own. When you leave, the incentive for fighting is gone. Also, when your own fuse is getting short, consider handing the reins over to the other parent, whose patience may be greater at that moment.

Whenever possible, don't get involved. Step in only if there's a danger of physical harm. If you always intervene, you risk creating other problems. The children may start expecting your help and wait for you to come to the rescue rather than learning to work out the problems on their own. There's also the risk that you — inadvertently — make it appear to one child that another is always being "protected," which could foster even more resentment. By the same token, rescued children may feel that they can get away with more because they're always being "saved" by a parent.

If you're concerned by the language used or name-calling, it's appropriate to "coach" children through what they're feeling by using appropriate words. This is different from intervening or stepping in and separating the children. Even then, encourage them to resolve the crisis themselves. If you do step in, try to resolve problems with your children, not for them.

Don't put too much focus on figuring out which child is to blame. It takes two to fight — anyone who is involved is partly responsible. Next, try to set up a "win-win" situation so that each child gains something. When they both want the same game, perhaps there's a game they could play together instead. Separate children until they're calm. Sometimes it's best just to give them space for a little while and not immediately rehash the conflict. Otherwise, the fight can escalate again. If you want to make this a learning experience, wait until the emotions have died down.

Remember, as children cope with disputes, they also learn important skills that will serve them for life — like how to value another person's perspective, how to compromise and negotiate, and how to control aggressive impulses.

Be proactive in giving your children one-on-one attention directed to their interests and needs. For example, if one likes to go outdoors, take a walk or go to the park. If another child likes to sit and read, make time for that too.

Don't let children make you think that everything always has to be "fair" and "equal" — sometimes one kid needs more than the other.

Have fun together as a family. Whether you're watching a movie, throwing a ball, or playing a board game, you're establishing a peaceful way for your children to spend time together and relate to each other. This can help ease tensions between them and also keeps you involved. Since parental attention is something many children fight over, fun family activities can help reduce conflict.

If fights between your children are frequent, hold weekly family meetings in which you repeat the rules about fighting and review past successes in reducing conflicts. Consider establishing a program where the children earn points toward a fun family-oriented activity when they work together to stop battling.

If your children frequently squabble over the same things (such as video games or dibs on the TV remote), post a schedule showing which child "owns" that item at what times during the week. (But if they keep fighting about it, take the "prize" away altogether.) Let them know that they are safe, important, and needed, and that their needs will be met.

Make sure children have their own space and time to do their own thing — to play with toys by themselves, to play with friends without a sibling tagging along, or to enjoy activities without having to share 50-50.

Recognize when children just need time apart from each other and the family dynamics. Try arranging separate play dates or activities for each kid occasionally. And when one child is on a play date, you can spend one-on-one time with another.

Lastly, set ground rules for acceptable behavior. Tell the children that there's no cursing, no name-calling, no yelling, no door slamming. Solicit their input on the rules — as well as the consequences when they break them. This teaches them that they're responsible for their own actions, regardless of the situation or how provoked they felt, and discourages any attempts to negotiate regarding who was "right" or "wrong."

Good luck,

Mark Hutten, M.A.

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