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Elder sons picking on youngest

We have three boys in grade school and our two older sons are constantly picking on their younger brother. I intervene when I can, but the youngest one is beginning to play the victim, and I don't want to encourage him in that attitude. How do I handle this complicated situation?

If it's any consolation to you, you're not alone. Every parent with more than one child deals with sibling rivalry at some point or other. In some families these conflicts even extend into adulthood, with adults in their 30s, 40s and 50s competing with one another like grade school kids. That's why it's important to do everything you can to nip them in the bud before the situation escalates.

You didn't mention whether you're a single parent or not, so for purposes of our answer we'll assume that you're married and that your sons are growing up in a home with a present, involved and caring father. We have a good reason for insisting on this point. Dads have a powerful influence on their sons, whether for good or ill. Boys tend to imitate their father's behaviour, including his treatment of other people.

This leads us to ask the following questions: In your household, does dad model patience, kindness and respect in his relationship with other members of the family? Does he set firm limits on the boys' behaviour, implementing swift consequences when the older ones pick on their little brother? If not, it's time for him to step up to the plate.

If he is doing these things consistently, then the issue may be that your older sons feel they need to compete for their mother's time and affection. Strange as it may seem, picking on little brother may be a way of saying, “Mum, I want you to pay attention to me.”

In a case like this, one good way to solve the problem is to make sure that both mum and dad schedule one-on-one time with each of the boys a few times each week. This could involve something as simple as a trip to the store with you, a game of catch in the park or a walk around the neighbourhood. If your older sons are acting out because they're feeling a bit neglected, this individual time with them could make a huge difference in their behaviour.

This article was extracted by Focus on the Family Malaysia (www.family.org.my) with permission.