National Catholic Register

Culture of Life

Sibling Battery, Stopped


May 7-13, 2006 Issue | Posted 5/8/06 at 11:00 AM


My daughter regularly puts down her little brother. He has a softer nature, so he seldom retaliates. She can be pretty brutal. What should I do?

The sibling bond is amazingly durable. It can be bent, twisted, even verbally mutilated and not break. Still, it’s not healthy to test its strength daily.

Yes, it is normal for one sibling to be feistier by temperament than another. Yes, it is normal for that sibling to mistreat the other. No, it is not good, nor even acceptable.

I suspect that your docile son will eventually reach his limit — shortly, or when he realizes he is bigger and stronger than his big sister. Then again, he could just slowly withdraw from a relationship with her.

Whichever course occurs, the sibling battering will most likely take a toll on his ego, his confidence or his emotions. Further, he is looking to you for protection, as he is unable or unwilling to protect himself.

Let’s also not overlook your daughter’s well-being in all this. By being allowed to act so hurtfully, she deprives herself of an invaluable family gift — a warm relationship with a little brother. She also learns to be habitually nasty. That’s not a quality anyone likes.

Whenever a parent is aware of a child’s chronic misconduct but hasn’t acted definitively to change it, the natural question is: Why not? Obviously you see it as pretty ugly, and you’re bothered by it. Is it so frequent as to overwhelm your stamina? Is it slipping underneath your radar a good part of the time? Is your son staying fairly calm about it? Do you believe that your daughter is “just being a kid” and, even though she hurts him, she really loves him?

Let’s assume you’re affected by a little of all of the above. Nevertheless, for a positive relationship between your children to take root you must first uproot the negative.

Inform your daughter that, from now on, she will no longer be permitted to demean her little brother in any way — words, looks, tone, bossiness. If she does, consequences will be immediate and predictable. You might have her write a letter of apology to her brother, do all his chores for a day, look up and define 10 synonyms for “kindness” in the dictionary or write 25 nice things about her brother.

On this last one, if she says, “There aren’t 25 nice things about him,” you could say what one feisty mom said to her child: “Make them up. That’s what I do with your father.”

Another creative parent told me that, if her son badly mistreated his sister, she would declare him her servant for a set period of time, depending on the infraction. If he complained, she reassured, “Be grateful. This is good practice for marriage.”

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