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What To Do When Your Oldest Child Bullies the Younger Ones

Dear Mark, We have greatly benefited from your online parenting book and we have watched you on YouTube. Our son aged 10 [will be 11 in Aug.] has been diagnosed with autism and ADHD. We have 4 other children, and we try to run a loving but disciplined home. Though my son is not out of control, he is very aggressive and rude from the off, without any provocation. We feel very undermined because of his behaviour, especially in front of the other children. I feel very sad and depressed when he behaves like this, which is most of the time. He bullies his younger siblings, and causes a great deal of tension and unhappiness at home. The autism is the reason for his lack of social skills but why is he so angry, unhelpful and unpleasant in an environment that is mild mannered? Is it because he is a bad tempered person who happens to have autism and ADHD?

Please forgive me if I am missing the obvious. Thank you very much for your time and patience. Looking forward to hearing from you. A.


Approach the bullying situation in three distinct ways:

1. Ask yourself if you think that the mocking and harassing by the older brother to the younger sibling is only a superficial encounter between siblings or if there's a deep-seeded resentment involved. The older brother may be displacing anger that he feels in another area of his life and taking it out on the closest possible victim, his sibling. You don't want the younger sibling to see himself as a victim. If the interactions stem from unresolved familial issues, one or both of the children may need therapy.

2. Notice when they get along. What are they doing? Playing video games, riding bicycles, listening to music? Whatever it happens to be, see what you can do to create more opportunities for them to engage in these activities together. When they're engaging in an activity together, they are building their relationship.

3. Stop the older brother from mocking and harassing his younger sibling. When he starts in, assume control of the situation, step between the children and stop it immediately. Say something like, "Mocking and harassing your brother is not OK. I will not allow one kid I love to harm — even with words — another kid I love." Use powerful — but not threatening — body language and tone of voice. These interactions between the siblings are likely a negative habit embedded in their relationship. By stopping these interactions quickly, the kids will need to find another way — hopefully a positive one — of interacting.

4. When they do get along with one another, be sure to catch them in the act of "being good" and extend a dose of acknowledgment and praise: "I see you guys are getting along - that's you being respectful - good work."

Most bullying situations start in the home, sometimes delivered from parent to kid and other times between siblings. The children need to learn better ways to interact because neither will succeed well in relationships if they generalize the bullying or the victim roles to other situations.

Mark Hutten, M.A.

==> JOIN Online Parent Support

What To Do When Your Teenager Becomes Verbally Abusive

Mark, Thanks for your prompt response, the most pressing for now is for him not to be very loud and verbally abusive at home (FYI-My son is 6 ft tall and I'm 5"3. and it is very intimidating at times). Also, I want him to be self-reliant. I totally get your topic on that. We've very sensible about that until 2 yrs ago that I was a bit indulgent with them. I guess I was over compensating for the loss of their father and I put that to an end and explained to them our priorities.

My question Mark with your experience, do I have a chance to turn him around? Every counselor that I consulted, their advise is for him to go to counseling, w/o telling me how to effectively convince him how can I persuade him without being controlling and he thinks kids who go to counseling have head problem. I just want him to be responsible and accountable for his actions. Gratefully, C.


Aggression or violence towards moms and dads (or other family members) by their kids or adolescents is more common than most people believe and it is something that is usually not talked about. It can involve abusive language, frightening, threatening or physically hurting a parent (pushing, shoving, kicking, throwing things), hurting pets, damaging furniture and property, or threatening with knives or weapons. Whether it is a one-off incident or ongoing, it must be dealt with.

Kids may be aggressive towards moms and dads for a number of reasons. None of the following reasons excuse violent or aggressive behavior, but they may help moms and dads understand why some kids, especially adolescents do it:
  • Drugs or alcohol, the loss of a job or a broken relationship can all be triggers that lead to violence.
  • They do not know of any other way to solve problems or get what they want (lashing out at someone or something is all they know).
  • They have grown up in a household where they have seen adults (sometimes moms and dads or partners) being angry, and using violence towards them or others (this behavior is seen as normal in their eyes).
  • They have not learned how to control or manage their feelings, especially angry ones and so just act out without using any self discipline.
  • They have not learned to value or respect other people or their property.
  • They may be going through a really difficult time and cannot cope with the stresses in their own lives.
  • They may have a disability and have not been able to learn other ways of behaving.
  • They may have an acute mental illness and be very frightened.
  • They may have used drugs that can trigger an acute psychosis and violent behavior.
  • They see the parent as weak and powerless (it is often the mother), or they think that this is how women can be treated.

Most moms and dads whose kids attack them in this way can feel very scared, very powerless, lonely, sometimes embarrassed, ashamed and guilty. They feel they have lost control in the home.

• Although taking a tough stand can be difficult it is very important to do. When a teenager is violent toward a parent, no matter how much she might excuse her behavior ("it was really mum's fault, she pushed me to it") she can never feel all right about it. If she is never made to stop, she will probably repeat the same pattern in other relationships or in the work place. It will continue to cause problems in her life and can even lead to problems with the law unless she is stopped and can learn other ways to deal with her anger.

• Be prepared to make some tough decisions, even though your confidence feels shattered.

• Decide on your 'bottom line'. You need to be very clear and carry out what you have said will happen when he has overstepped this line. This may mean your teenager leaves your home either by agreement or by using the police and/or a restraining order. You may find this very hard to do. Get support from someone who understands.

• If the behavior is out of character for your teenager and has started only recently, think about what else may have happened or changed lately. For example, has anyone new had contact with your family recently or have there been changes in the family or with his friends? Has anything happened in these relationships? Is your teenager depressed? See the topic 'Teenage depression'. Has your teenager been taking drugs?

• If your other kids are being harmed in any way by your teenager, you must do something to protect them.

• Look at the situation from your teenager's point of view, no matter how unreasonable it seems. Think about how your behavior (from his point of view) might be contributing to the situation (even if you don't think it could be).

• Notice what your teenager does well and talk to him about it. Adolescents especially do not need reminders of their failures.

• Remember that whatever has happened in your relationship with your teenager, there is no excuse for violence.

• Spend some time supporting what he likes doing if he will let you, eg watching him play sport or listening to his music.

• Taking a tough stand helps to force your youngster to face his violence - he then has the chance to learn other ways of dealing with anger.

• Think about what happens as a fight brews. What are the warning signs? When these signs are present, make sure you separate from each other (you may have to leave the house). If so, take your younger kids with you so they don't become the victims of violence. Talk about concerns only when you are both calm.

• Think about your favorite image of your teenager. Do you still think of her as she was when she was little? You may need to come to grips with the fact that she is no longer a youngster.

• Think what the fights are most often about. Work out what things you are not prepared to move your position on, what ones you are prepared to give way on and what you can leave for your teenager to sort out.

• You need to take some control in your home. You may not be able to change or stop your teenager's behavior, but you can take a stand for what you are prepared to put up with in your home. This is important especially if there are younger kids who may feel frightened and need your help to feel safe.

Violence towards moms and dads or other family members is unacceptable and is recognized by the police as a crime. It is very difficult to make the decision to call the police and possibly have your youngster charged, but you need to keep yourself and others safe.
  • You are likely to feel guilt, anger, sadness and fear.
  • You may feel that you are betraying your youngster and that this will put his or her future at risk.

Calling the police can help to calm the situation, support you to regain control and begin to rebuild a respectful relationship with your youngster.

What will happen? The police can help to calm an explosive situation or protect other family members. They will give advice and ask what action you want taken, if any.

What action can they take? If you would like the police to take further action the young person will be taken for a formal interview at the nearest police station. The police can the deal with the young person by:

• Arranging a family conference
• Issuing a formal caution
• Issuing an informal caution
• Proceeding through the Youth Court

If the offense is serious the young person can be arrested and taken into custody.

• Kids under 10 years cannot be charged, but police can still be called for assistance and advice.

• If the young person is between 10 and 18 years old, cases are handled within the Juvenile Justice system. The court will decide upon appropriate action if it determined that a crime has occurred. However this information will not be released when a criminal history is requested (eg by an employer).

• If you do not want to take action, police keep the matter on file and it can be followed up at a later time.

• Young people over 18 are considered adults and would be dealt with through the Magistrates Court. If convicted this would be recorded as part of a criminal history and will be released if a criminal history is requested. (An employer can only get a criminal history record if the person agrees to this, but not agreeing may affect employment opportunities).

Regardless of the future impact on your youngster it is important to take action to ensure the safety of yourself and other family members - you all have the right to feel safe.

  • Call the police is you or others in your family are at risk.
  • Deal with this problem... it won't go away.
  • Decide on your bottom line, make it known in advance, mean it and carry it out.
  • Find out what works for other people.
  • Look after your self esteem... you may feel you have lost it altogether or it needs repairing.
  • Speak to someone who understands this sort of behavior and who can support you.
  • Take some control.... for the sake of yourself, your teenager and your other kids.
  • You can love your youngster but you do not have to put up with all his behavior.

==> My Out-of-Control Teen: Help for Parents

Son is Suspected of Dealing Drugs

Hello Mark,

When everything I've tried failed, I started digging deeper into your program (about 85% complete but still reiterating). I found the section on ODD & CD, which I believe is present to some degree, especially the CD; probably mild to moderate substance abuse (weed, booze & grandmas prescriptions). I even heard he has been "dealing", but cannot find any proof, like a stash or cash, so I question (but do not reject the possibility of) him dealing. There are a lot of kids here on weekends, which seems normal.

He is popular at school, could do better and has issues with only one teacher that I know of. I met her, and well, I don't care for her either to be honest. We are always on alert, especially when anything is confiscated (old bottle of whiskey) from his room or the smell of smoke under a heavy blanket of cologne. He in no uncertain terms asked for the bottle(s) back. I looked him in the eye and said "And I want my son back". I was positive it would lead to another episode of a wall getting kicked clear through, so I called his cousin (who has semi-recovered from the same issues) and asked if he would come up for a surprise visit (distraction).

It didn't work out, my son took off ...probably suspecting I was behind it. He came home later and went to bed, no damage done. He will not speak to me, let alone listen to anything I have to say. Chores, ha.

I also suspect (but have no proof) that the neighbor (who is about 38 years old) is somehow involved with more than a friendly ear. There is good reason to believe there's "something up", but I don't want to go there or insinuate anything without reasonable/absolute proof. I wouldn't want someone doing that to me. I need an approach.

Hanging in there…


Prepare for your son to be angry if he suspects you have searched his room. As paranoia is a common side effect of many drugs popular among teens, your son may already be worrying that you are spying on him or will find out about his problem. It's likely that he may notice that someone has entered his room and moved his belongings, so be ready to deal with a possible confrontation about the search.

Wait until you know that he will be out of the house for an extended period of time. The best time to do so is probably when he will be at school, though if your son happens to skip school, a behavior that tends to accompany drug abuse, be aware of the possibility that he may unsuspectingly come home expecting you to be at work. If possible, wait to perform the search until you are certain he will be away from his room several uninterrupted hours, such as a work shift or a weekend vacation.

Think about hiding places built into the structure of your house. Your son is likely to be familiar with any special spots in his room where there are special compartments or openings, such as crawl spaces, attic doors, loose flooring or drop ceiling panels. These are places in your son's room where drugs or drug paraphernalia might be hidden because he may think no one else in the household knows about them.

Check everywhere in the room where drugs could be hidden, such as under the bed or mattress, behind bookcases and inside desk drawers. Look inside the battery compartments of any electronics in your son's room, such as the TV, remote controls and portable CD players. Also check any pieces of furniture with hollow areas that could provide a hiding place for small stashes of drugs.

Wait to confront your son about your suspicions if you do not find any evidence. Though it may be necessary to bring up the issue regardless of whether or not you find drugs in your son's room, breaking his trust can also be dangerous and can cause him to isolate himself even further from you. Discussing potential drug abuse is a topic that must be handled very delicately.

Next… the “conversation”:

The major reason you have to have a conversation with your youngster about drugs and alcohol is because your kids need to be educated by you. They need to hear from their moms and dads that teen drug and alcohol use is not condoned in your family. They need to learn from their moms and dads about the consequences of drug and alcohol use. Most importantly, they need to be held accountable for their actions with drugs and alcohol use.

What happens if you suspect that your teen is already using alcohol and drugs? What do you say to them? The conversation is the same: moms and dads need to tell their kids that drug and alcohol use by teens is not allowed in your family.

The issue won't go away until you do something. You will get to the point where you can't deny that the problem exists. You'll have a continuous nagging feeling in the pit of your stomach. You will simply have to acknowledge that your youngster has a problem — your youngster is using drugs and that won't get any better until you take action on your youngster's behalf. It is OK to ask for help. In fact, getting help may make it easier for you to have the conversation.

Sometimes the beginning of a conversation is harder than the middle — that dreaded conversation with your spouse or partner during which you acknowledge that you know your youngster has a problem with drugs or alcohol. That is a pretty profound conversation and is often laden with sadness, anger and regret. Denial plays a big part in that first conversation, as does finger-pointing. Neither reaction is helpful. The most important thing you can do is move on and figure out what you both can do to help your youngster.

This is a time for you and your spouse or partner to establish rules and consequences for your youngster if he or she uses drugs or alcohol. The rules should be simple: no drug or alcohol use by teens will be allowed in your family. The consequences should be straightforward and meaningful to the teen. Don’t go to extremes in setting consequences — choose those that you are able to carry out.

Practice the conversation with each other ahead of time. You may have to have a couple of “practice runs.” These conversations are not easy but they are worthwhile. Talking it over with your spouse/partner beforehand will help you keep a level head and speak to the issue.

Tell yourself that you won’t “lose it” with your youngster. Anger and hostility won’t get you anywhere in this conversation. Stay as calm as possible. Remember, you are the parent and you are in charge. Be kind, simple, and direct in your statements to your youngster. Above all, remember to tell your youngster that you love him or her! The conversation will not be perfect — no conversation ever is. Know that you are doing the right thing for your youngster. That’s what matters most!

Here are some suggested things to keep in mind when you talk to your youngster:
  • It makes you FEEL worried and concerned about them when they do drugs.
  • KNOW that you will have this discussion many, many times. Talking to your kid about drugs and alcohol is not a one-time event.
  • Tell your son that you LOVE him, and you are worried that he might be using drugs or alcohol.
  • You are there to LISTEN to them.
  • You KNOW that drugs may seem like the thing to do, but doing drugs can have serious consequences.
  • You tell him what you WILL do to help them.
  • You WANT them to be a part of the solution.

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