Do you have any ideas on how to stop my older kids from picking on their younger brother? I intervene when I can, but all this bullying is causing the youngest one to play the victim, and I don’t want to encourage him in that attitude. How do I handle this situation?

Every parent with more than one child deals with sibling rivalry at some point or other. In some families these conflicts even continue into adulthood, with adults in their 30s, 40s, and 50s competing with one another like grade school kids. That’s why it’s important to do everything you can to nip things in the bud before the situation escalates.

You didn’t mention whether you’re a single parent or not, so for purposes of our answer we’ll assume that you’re married and that your sons are growing up in a home with a present, involved, and caring father. We have a good reason for insisting on this point. Dads have a powerful influence on their sons. Boys tend to imitate their father’s behavior, including his treatment of other people. This leads us to ask the following questions. In your household, does dad model patience, kindness, and respect in his relationship with other members of the family? Does he set firm limits on the boys’ behavior, implementing swift consequences when the older ones pick on their little brother?  Family boundaries (Asset #11) are not just the mothers to enforce. If he’s not active in helping to establish and follow through on these boundaries and expectations, it’s time for him to step up to the plate.

If he is doing these things consistently, then the issue may be that your older sons feel they need to compete for their mother’s time and affection. Strange as it may seem, picking on little brother may be a way of saying, “Mom, I want you to pay attention to me.” In a case like this, one good way to solve the problem is to make sure that both mom and dad schedule one‐on‐one time with each of the boys a few times each week. This could involve something as simple as a trip to store with you, a game of catch in the park, or a walk around the neighborhood. If your older sons are acting out because they’re feeling a bit neglected, this individual time with them could make ahuge difference in their behavior.