Toddlers hits younger sibling

Question: What can I do about my three year old son? He is so hateful to my 11 month old. We do not know what to do. He will not have anything to do with him, and he bites and hits him.
– Tracy

Answer: Would you believe me if I told you your three-year-old might be acting this way whether he had a little brother or not? It just happens that he has a prime target right in the house. The acts of aggression and power are very much part of the age (still unacceptable, of course). You as a parent, however, get to experience both sides of the drama by wanting to protect your little one and wanting to create a positive sibling relationship.

First, try to stay emotionally neutral. In cases of biting and hitting, it’s easy for emotions to escalate because we, as adults, know that biting and hitting are absolutely not acceptable. Children still do it! Stay calm and state firmly that “you MAY NOT hurt your brother”. Be ready to intercept your three-year-old if you see him within striking distance.

In most cases, the younger child stops being totally innocent in these exchanges around this age. Stay attentive to the possibility of your younger child pinching or otherwise instigating some of the drama.

Reassure yourself that these interactions are not an indication of how your three-year-old will behave in 6 months or 6 years. For now, he needs clear boundaries of what is right and wrong and then he needs time to learn the lessons you are teaching. He will hear the lesson more clearly if positive messages outnumber the negative 5:1. Attention-getting misbehavior goes hand-in-hand with new siblings in the house. So be sure your son is getting lots of attention for the things he does well.

Your three year old may also “have nothing to do with” his little brother because at this particular time he doesn’t find his little brother very interesting. You can try to find some activities that the two can do together. Remember to let your three-year-old dictate what those activities would be: your three-year-old picking out books to read, your three-year-old picking the toys for bathtime, your three-year-old picking out which toys his brother gets. Your ten-month-old doesn’t care what the game is; he just enjoys being around his big brother’s energy. There might be some daily activity that the two boys will enjoy together without too much stress for you. If not, try again after your little one is walking or reaches some other new stage that might create interest for your older child.

Lastly, keep a mental picture of your three-year-old as a gentle child. That “other” child is still within him! He will return to his former loving self again. In the meantime, stay firm about not hurting others and allow him to find a comfortable place to be a big brother.

Good Luck,
Karen Deerwester, Ed.S.

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