How can I help my youngest child age 4 cope with my 12 year old Asperger child’s sneaky aggressive behavior toward him? My four year old loves his older brother but is constantly being manipulated and abused. He does this very sneaky and tries not to get caught.
A typical example: My Asperger child will appear to cuddle with my child on the couch while he's secretly smashing the air out of him until the 4 year old screams. It's hard to watch my loving four year getting hurt every time I turn my back.
Here are some important facts related to sibling aggression. Researcher suggests that:
- A younger sibling who is very aggressive increases an older sibling's level of aggression.
- An older sibling who is very aggressive increases a younger sibling's chances of being aggressive too.
- If mothers/fathers show hostility in their family interactions, their kid’s level of aggression increases.
- Parental hostility related to economic pressures has an impact on kid’s aggression.
- Just having a sibling influences a youngster's level of aggression.
- Aggression runs in families.
- Although parental hostility is a risk factor for childhood aggression, marital conflict between mothers/fathers is not.
- Other family risk factors that increase the likelihood of childhood aggression are economic pressures, single parenting, violence in the home, and maternal depression.
- Boys are more physically aggressive in sibling relationships than girls, but girls can be just as aggressive in non-verbal ways.
- Sister-to-sister relationships have less fighting than brother-to-brother or brother-to-sister combinations.
- Having a nurturing older sister protects younger kids from becoming aggressive and even protects them from developing substance abuse issues, but having an overly aggressive older brother has the opposite effect.
- Kids tend to show more aggression toward siblings at younger ages, and then outgrow it.
- Kids learn how to be aggressive by watching their older brothers/sisters.
As moms and dads, we may be tempted to ignore fighting and quarrelling between kids. We may view these activities as a normal part of growing up. We say, "Boys will be boys" or "They'll grow out of it." However, thousands of adult survivors of sibling abuse tell of the far-reaching negative effects that such unchecked behavior has had on them as kids and grown-ups.
Sibling abuse, as all forms of human abuse, may be sexual, physical, or emotional:
- Sexual abuse includes unwanted touching, indecent exposure, intercourse, rape or sodomy between brother/sister.
- Physical abuse ranges from hitting, biting, and slapping to more life-threatening acts such as choking or shooting with a BB gun.
- Emotional abuse is present in all forms of sibling abuse. It may include teasing, name calling, belittling, ridiculing, intimidating, annoying, and provoking.
Kids often abuse a sibling, usually younger than themselves, to gain power and control. One explanation for this is that the abusive youngster feels powerless, neglected and insecure. He/she may feel strong only in relation to a brother/sister being powerless. The feeling of power kids experience when they mistreat a brother/sister often reinforces their decision to repeat the abuse.
How can you identify normal “sibling rivalry” versus “sibling abuse”? Here are some useful guidelines:
- How does the abused sibling respond? Victims often respond to abuse from a sibling by protecting themselves, screaming and crying, separating themselves from the abuser, abusing a younger sibling in turn, telling their moms and dads, internalizing the abusive message, fighting back, or submitting.
- How often does it happen and how long does it go on? Acceptable behavior that is long and drawn out may become abusive over time.
- Identify the behavior. Isolate it from the emotions associated with it and evaluate it.
- Is the behavior age-appropriate? Remember that generally you should confront fighting and jealousy even if you tend to think it is "normal."
- Is there a victim in the situation? A victim may not want to participate, but may be unable to stop the activity.
- What is the purpose of the behavior? If it tears down another person, it is abusive.
If you suspect abuse, it's important to act quickly to stop it. An effective parental response involves the following steps:
- As a parent, you play a critical role in teaching kids how to mediate disputes without aggression. By setting rules and expectations for how your kids interact with each other, they are more likely to find ways to resolve their differences without aggression throughout their lives.
- Be a good role-model of positive and esteem-building behavior.
- Bring all kids involved into a problem-solving process.
- Figure out alternative solutions to the problem.
- Get enough fact and feeling information to assess the problem accurately.
- Help kids to arrive at a child-set goal (goals set by moms and dads often become rules that kids will not follow).
- How you handle aggression between siblings is critical. A common complaint among kids is, "He started it!" If you continually punish one youngster, and do not properly address issues with another youngster who could be instigating aggressive situations, you will likely breed resentment between siblings that could result in even more aggression. Assuming the older youngster is the aggressor could mean that you are missing a younger child's aggressive impulses and letting them go unchecked.
- Minimize the violence your children see on T.V. and in the movies.
- Reward sensitive, positive behavior among siblings.
- Specify appropriate ways of acting and consequences should abusive behavior occur in the future.
- State and restate the problem to make sure you understand it clearly.
- The most important role you play with your youngster is that of a model for behavior. Your kids are more likely to do as you do, not as you say. If they see that you handle stressful situations by becoming aggressive or belligerent, they will learn this behavior. It is important to be aware of the behaviors you are teaching your youngster. Do you drive aggressively while screaming angry insults at other drivers? Are you rude or aggressively demanding toward others, such as restaurant or other service workers? Your kids learn through these interactions.
- Work together to set up a contract which states the rights and responsibilities of each youngster.