My son often lashes out at his little brother
ASK THE EXPERT: Q:My three-year-old son can be really aggressive with his little brother (eight months). He seems to get great fun out of upsetting him.
It starts out with him being boisterous with his little brother or saying he wants to “play” with him, but then it gets out of hand and I have to intervene.
No matter how many times I tell him to stop or to be gentle he still keeps coming back to tease his brother.
Lately, I have been worried about leaving the two of them alone in the room together, because when I come back a moment later the baby might be crying. He, of course, denies anything happened. People tell me that I should understand that he is jealous of the baby and of course I appreciate this, but I don’t think I should have to put up with this behaviour.
Also, he gets lots of attention from me and his dad. When the baby goes to sleep at night for example, my three year old gets at least a whole hour playing with one of us. He is a very happy boy during this time. But I can’t give him one-to-one attention all the time when I have a new baby. How do you suggest I manage things?
AThe arrival of a new sibling can be a difficult adjustment for a young child. Up until then they had their mum and dad to themselves and suddenly they have to learn to share their parents’ attention and this adjustment comes at a time when the parents are more stressed with the demands of caring for two small children.
It is normal for children to feel jealous and to resent a new sibling which can lead to conflict. Understandably, as a parent in these situations you will intervene to protect the little brother but your actions can inadvertently make the problem worse. If you frequently criticise your son in front of his little brother or intervene on his brother’s behalf during a squabble, your son will interpret this emotionally as a sign that you favour his brother more and lead to increased resentment and negative behaviour towards his brother.
The key to breaking this cycle is to frequently get in early to divert squabbles between them and to take time to teach your son how to be a big brother and to enjoy his relationship with his new brother. Below are some practical steps you can take.
Set them up playing alongside one another with you close by. Go out of your way to notice any time your son is kind or at least tolerant of his little brother and really give him lots of praise and attention for this. “Oh you shared your cars with J, that is kind” or “you helped J build the tower, well done” or “lovely to see the two of you play together”.