Parenting expert Jan Faull explains how to keep an older boy from harassing his younger brother.
Q: My older nephew, age 13, mocks and harasses his younger brother, age 11. How can my sister, the mother of both boys, and I, their aunt, bring some peace between the brothers?
A: Approach this situation in three distinct ways:
• Stop the older brother from mocking and harassing his younger brother. When he starts in, assume control of the situation, step between the boys and stop it immediately. Say something like, “Mocking and harassing your brother is not OK. I will not allow one child I love to harm — even with words — another child I love.”
Use powerful — but not threatening — body language and tone of voice. These interactions between the brothers are likely a negative habit embedded in their relationship. By stopping these interactions quickly, the boys will need to find another way — hopefully a positive one — of interacting.
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• 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.
• Ask yourself if you think that the mocking and harassing by the older brother to the younger brother 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 brother. You don’t want the younger brother to see himself as a victim. If the interactions stem from unresolved familial issues, one or both of the boys may need therapy.
Most bullying situations start in the home, sometimes delivered from parent to child and other times between siblings. These boys 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.
Q: When my 4 ½-year-old son needs to poop, he sits on the toilet for about 10 minutes, then he says he can’t go and asks for a diaper. Not only does he need a diaper but his trousers on as well. I have tried having him use the diaper without his trousers, no success. I have encouraged him to sit on the toilet or small potty seat to poop (with diaper and pants on), but no success. He refuses to do either one. Now what?
A: Tell him that by a certain date (two weeks or so), there will be no more diapers available to him. Mark the days off on the calendar. Go on to say that his job is to learn to poop in the toilet and your job is to help him.
Also, starting now, have him practice pooping on the toilet twice a day. When he does so, don’t have any expectation that he will perform. Practicing should warm him up to the idea of eventually going on the toilet, but when he actually does so is completely up to him.
When the designated day arrives, and he asks for a diaper, you’ll need to stand firm, “There are no more diapers. What are you going to do? Are you going to go in your underwear or on the toilet?” He needs to see the problem as his, not yours.
If he goes in his underwear, put him in the bathtub and have him clean himself up as much as he is able. Coach him — don’t be punitive — and make sure in the end that he’s clean but give him minimal amount of assistance. Create the attitude between the two of you that it’s his body and his challenge.
One caution: If your son starts to retain his bowels, call your pediatrician.
Jan Faull, a specialist in child development and behavior, answers readers’ questions on parenting and development in her column. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org or write to: Jan Faull, c/o Families, The Seattle Times, P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists