Parenting is hard. It is even harder when there is discord in the house among siblings. If your oldest child has become a bully in your own home, there are some things you can do to usher in an era of peace.
Investigate outside influences. If your oldest child is tormenting her younger brothers and sisters, it is possible that she is being treated this way herself at school or in the neighborhood. Children often act out their unresolved issues with those “beneath” them to give them a sense of power and control. Pay careful attention to her interactions with peers, talk with her teacher and talk with your daughter. You may find that there is an underlying cause that needs to be addressed.
Tame the green monster. Jealousy is a powerful emotion. Is it possible that your child is jealous of her younger siblings for some reason? Often feelings of jealousy are based on perceptions, rather than reality. She may FEEL that you favor your other children when this is not the case. These feelings can start a vicious cycle: she feels bad about herself , so she misbehaves with her siblings, she then gets in trouble, which makes her feel bad about herself, so she misbehaves . . . You can see how this can perpetuate itself. Talk with your child about her feelings regarding “fairness” in your home. Let her express her feelings no matter how “off base” they may seem to you. Don’t try to explain away her feelings with logic and reasoning. Just listen and reflect back what she says in a warm and accepting way.
Put her in charge. It may sound contradictory to give a dictator more power, but if you give her power, she won’t have to take it. What is she good at? If she is good at crafts, set up a project and make her the “teacher.” She can instruct her younger siblings on how to complete the project. If she is good at sports, have her become a coach of sorts in a family pick-up game. She can give pointers and tips to all family members. Most younger siblings naturally look up to their older brothers and sisters and will love this special time. Furthermore, your daughter will have the opportunity to be in control in a healthy way.
Create a suggestion box. Talk with your daughter one-on-one when the issue is NOT a hot topic (you want her to be calm for this kind of discussion). Tell her what you have noticed about how she has been acting and that you want to help. Problem solve about what she needs. Does she need more private time? As children age, they value their privacy more and more – an element that younger siblings can be slow to understand. Does she need some alone time with you or your spouse? Could she stay up 15 minutes later than the others for this special time? Does she feel “unheard” for some reason? Create a “suggestion box” for her to write down her issues and complaints during the day. You can address them together at the end of the day. This will help her feel that she has a “voice” and will improve communication.
While no technique or parenting approach can completely eliminate sibling rivalry, these are some things you can do to reduce it. You may just observe your oldest child transformed from a bully into a wonderful role model.[photo credit: gracey from morguefile.com]