Older Sibling Picking on Younger One

Question.

I am a divorced father with a 5-year-old child from my first marriage. I am now remarried and have three stepdaughters. My second wife and I have just had a child of our own. I treat all five of my children the same, and I have told them numerous times that I love them all the same. 

We are now having problems with my 5-year-old. She is lying and hitting her 3-year-old stepsister. We have tried talking with her, asking her if she is upset and what is wrong. She either does not respond to our questions or says, “I don’t know.” We are concerned that her behavior will escalate into something worse, and we need advice on how to stop it before it does.

Answer.

Blending families can be difficult, especially when young children are involved. It is good that you are talking with your daughter because she is going through a transition like the rest of your family. When she replies “I don’t know,” she probably is not being difficult; she most likely does not understand why she is acting out. Focus on teaching her the social skills she is lacking rather than determining why she is acting a certain way. Provide her with many opportunities to practice until she understands and implements what you are asking her to do.

It sounds like your daughter is only targeting her younger sister, so focus on their relationship. Find opportunities to have them work on something or play together in order to provide plenty of teaching opportunities for you and your wife and practice for your daughters. Have your daughter take the approach of being the big sister. Give her tasks that require her to help her little sister, and then let her know how important it is to you when she helps out and is a great big sister. 

Continue to praise positive behavior and steps in the right direction no matter how small. Implement a no-hitting rule in the entire house, and make all members of the family, including your daughter, aware of it. If she knows that the entire house is expected to interact nicely with no hitting and not just her, she will respond more positively because she won’t feel like she is being singled out. Be a good role model of behaviors you want to see in your children.