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Boy Hits His Sister

Toddler and Teenager Expert Advice from Carleton Kendrick, Ed.M., LCSW

Q: What can I do about my son's temperament? Any time his sister says or does something he doesn't like he hits her. It seems like I am constantly on his back about it-- he gets reprimanded she gets coddled. He even back talks to his father and me. Obviously getting upset with him, yelling at him, spanking him, sending him to time-out doesn't work. He is five and his sister is three.

A: You are wise to see that the punishments you have used are not working. Although hitting a sibling when angry is common practice, it's always uncomfortable to witness. I'll offer a few techniques to deal with this problem and also suggest two excellent books with many creative solutions. The books are: "Siblings Without Rivalry "by Faber & Mazlish and "Loving Each One Best" by Nancy Samalin.

A few techniques are:
1. When he and you are in a good mood and can be alone, without any interruption from your daughter, sit down and say something like, " You know, we've got a problem here that we need to solve. Your sister seems to make you angry a lot and you hit her. Dad and I have punished you but it keeps happening and you know it's wrong to hurt her. So I thought you and I could talk about how to solve this problem and make everyone happier. I know it can be really hard to get along with a little sister sometimes and you probably hit her because she's bothering you, or you're in a bad mood, not because you want to hurt her. How about every time you're bothered or angry by something she says or does you can either go hit or squeeze this pillow or come to me and show me just how angry you are."

2. Again, alone with him away from his sister. "I've been thinking about how hard it must be sometimes to have a little sister who wants to use all your toys, be in your room, not leave you alone. I don't think we've ever talked about how hard all that must be for you. What are the hardest things about being around your sister? You know, she really doesn't want to bother you so much; she wants to be like you and do the things you do so she can feel more grown up like you. Will you tell me how I can help you with her so you don't do things to her that hurt her? Thanks honey, let's you and I celebrate things getting better and go have your favorite ice cream cone, just you and me.

3.Instead of always coddling her and punishing him, you could, in addition to having conversations like the ones above with your son, have conversations with your daughter using the same empathy based style. You could also role play with your son, you being your daughter annoying him, and praise him for his alternative behavior.

Good luck folks, I know you all can make things better for everyone.

More on: Expert Advice

Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.

Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.


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