Q. Dear Dr. Fran, my wife and I have five children–ages 5 to 13 years-old. Our oldest boy is extremely aggressive and seems to be taking his anger out on his 5-year-old brother. My wife thinks it’s no big deal just normal brotherly roughhousing. I am concerned. The 5-year-old is small and cannot defend himself. I work full time and my wife is a part-time teacher. Do you think I am over-reacting or do we have a real problem with our oldest and youngest boys? Simon U.
A. Dear Simon: a new study out this week in the Journal Of Pediatrics addresses the findings from a national survey of children and their caregivers. It found that, just like bullying by peers, bullying by siblings causes significant mental distress and worsens the victims’ emotional health.
Bottom line: The authors concluded that parents, pediatricians and the public should treat sibling aggression as potentially harmful, and not dismiss it as normal, minor, or even beneficial, and this message should be included in parenting education.
Simon, you need to take your gut intuition seriously. There is a power differential between a 5-year-old and a 13- year-old. If you allow the little one to get pummeled he is likely to either become depressed or go to school and find a smaller child to displace his anger on.
Talk to your wife and get a consultation from a qualified family therapist. Below are some of the warning signs of sibling bullying and steps parents can take to deal with it.
• Child has expressed fear of being alone with sibling.
• Parent has seen bruises and marks on the child (victim).
• Powerful jealousy and hostilities have been repeatedly verbalized by the aggressor.
• Aggressor has a fascination with fire or hurting animals. This is a precursor to developing a more serious personality disorder called sociopath.
Steps Parents Can Take To Address It:
1) Have an open family discussion about equal love for each of your children and establish zero-tolerance for hurting each other with our hands or our words.
2) Define acceptable and unacceptable behavior in your family.
3) Set clear firm rules and consequences for unacceptable behavior.
4) Establish special time with each child individually to build upon trust and bonding. This also helps diminish sibling jealousy and rivalry.
Q. Dear Dr. Fran, I think my husband of eight years is cheating on me. We have three children who are 8 and 4 years, and a six-month old baby. I feel like I’m losing my mind. I am not worried about money. I am scared to be a single mom and am angry, hurt, sad and feel deeply betrayed. I don’t know what to do or where to start. Please help me! Janet L.
A. Dear Janet: this is a really rough one. You need to confront your husband and let him know you are onto his shenanigans. His reaction and response will be your first indicator of how this scenario will play out.
What you want is for him to admit his mistake, feel/show genuine remorse, give you his word he will stop cheating for good immediately, and do his best to make it up to you.
If, on the other hand, you bump into his defensive denial and resistance to be accountable, then you have an even greater problem because he is likely to repeat the offense.
This is too big for you to deal with on your own. You need the support and guidance of a caring, skilled therapist as you move through this terribly painful experience.
If your husband refuses to attend therapy and take responsibility for his actions then I strongly recommend you get a consultation from an experienced family law attorney to understand your financial and custodial rights in the event of dissolution of your marriage.