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12-year-old son bullies his younger brother


My 12-year-old son constantly bullies his 7-year-old brother. We've taken my older son to countless doctors, specialists and therapists, but nothing seems to work. To make matters worse, he usually waits until he thinks no one is paying attention or they are going to bed to start the bullying. My 7-year-old is terrified to tell on him, so I basically have to catch him in the act. What can I do?


12 yr old brother

Conflicts among siblings, and even bullying, are very common. But you are right to be concerned about the ongoing bullying of your younger son by your older son. Here are some suggestions for confronting this sibling situation:

  1. Teach your sons how to treat each other with respect, even when they disagree, and show them how to get along in healthy ways. Role model what a healthy relationship looks like in the way you interact with others. You also can read them books about bullying and have them answer questions about what they learn.
  2. When your older son uses bullying behaviors, hold him accountable. Let him know that his bullying hurts his younger brother and encourage him to take responsibility for his actions. This can involve giving him a consequence (loss of a privilege, an extra chore) and having him apologize to his brother.
  3. If jealousy might be causing the bullying, defuse the situation by giving attention and praise to both boys equally. Be sure each child receives recognition, love and acceptance, and avoid making comparisons. For example, don't call one or the other "the athletic one" or "the smart one." Use praise frequently and consistently so their need for your attention is being met.
  4. Empower your sons by teaching them problem-solving skills. Have them work together on a project or a chore in order to create opportunities for them to use these skills. Be sure to supervise these situations, at least in the beginning, to ensure one sibling is not taking advantage of the other.
  5. Correct any bullying or unkind behaviors immediately. Be firm and consistent, and remember that your kids are still learning what behaviors are acceptable and what behaviors are not acceptable.

Also remember your home should be a safe place where everyone is loved and treated equally. Again, while sibling rivalry is normal, it is up to you to make sure it doesn't get out of hand. Deal decisively with bullying behaviors by setting limits and intervening early. And step in quickly if disagreements become physical. The goal is for everyone in the family to feel loved, nurtured and respected.

Here are some links to helpful information on managing bullying: