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Rough with Little Brother

We have a 3 1/2 year old and 15 month old. The 3 year old is an incredible boy and so thoughtful. But lately, whenever he gets the chance, he is very rough with his little brother (to the point we have to be with them all the time, just in case).
Most have told us that it is because he is 3, and that in itself is a tough age.
Any thoughts on the best way to handle this?

When second children become mobile there will always be conflict. It is very normal for your older son to be rough and even intentionally hurt his younger brother. You will quickly see how tough your second son will become. Typically, at 18 months the fights are competitive. see Gordonian Wisdom rule #3.

While this is normal, I agree that at this point you cannot leave them alone. Safety has to come first. When you are watching them interact and you witness your 3 year olds (or 15 month olds) aggressive behavior they must be disciplined. “Time out” should work well. more on “time out”

After his “time out” talk to him. Make it clear that these actions are not acceptable. Use statements like, “You are not acting like my sweet boy.” and “This is not how you normally act, you always take care of younger children”. These statements should show disapproval of his actions, but let him know he is inherently a good person.

At the same time, it is important to discipline your 15 month old with “time out” if he acts aggressively. This will be good for your 15 month old and for your 3 year old to witness.

Prior to medical school, I was a camp counselor for 5 great years. One of my favorite techniques to deal with inside the cabin bullies was to make the bully the protector. During a quiet moment, I would say to the bully. “I have heard some of the guys are picking on Jimmy. Can you watch out for him?” The effect was nothing short of amazing.

Give your 3 year old son a chance to be his younger brother’s protector. Get your boys out for a play date. Ask your 3 year old to “take care” of his younger brother. I bet you see the protective, caring side of your 3 year old.

Follow up 3 months later

We took your advice and stayed consistent with it. First off, while in the rough patch, we stayed all over the 2 of them. Like you said, "safety first". So we simply did not and could not leave them alone.

With that said, we were consistent about time outs, for both of them. And then our 3 year old would start to ask questions about his younger brother's time outs. "Will he get one if he does this or that?", etc. So clearly, he was paying attention and knew they both faced (somewhat equal - age appropriate) discipline.

On top of that, when we would talk, we pumped up the older brother that he was the older brother - he had a buddy in his little brother and could help look after him.

While they are brothers and will always "fight" to some degree, I would say while the rough patch lasted 2 to 3 months and we had to be all over them. But now, they LOVE to play together and it is FANTASTIC (especially for Mom and Dad).

Thank you again for your advice!

Written June 2011 by
Dr. Gordon, Orlando Pediatrician






gregorygordonmd.com is intended to help parents understand the needs and behaviors of children. The information presented in the site is the opinion of Gregory Gordon, M.D.and does not reflect the opinion of his partners. This website is owned exclusively by Doctors insights LLC. The advice in this site does not apply to all children. Always consult your healthcare provider for your individual needs.

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