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Sometimes (too frequent for my liking) when questioned "Why did you do this 100% prohibited or simply boneheaded thing", my 6- and 8-year-old kids' response is "he/she - pointing at the sibling - told me to do it".

At that, BOTH of them fully and immediately agree that they BOTH knew at the time that they were explicitly prohibited from doing whatever was done.

  1. Is this sort of behavior dangerous? To me, this projects to the future as being more susceptible to peer pressure in negative situations, AND as a major sign that parental opinion and authority is held pretty low ("Didn't we discuss yesterday that when mother tells you one thing and your sister the opposite, you listen to your mother?" "Yes". "So, why did you do it when she asked"? "I donno")

  2. What are good strategies to curb that pattern? I would estimate that they get up to no good at least 2-3 times more often when they are together than when they are alone.

The interesting thing is that it's not ALWAYS younger or older following the other's bad ideas. They both do it.

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  • 2
    "If he told you to jump off a cliff, would you do that...?"
    – Matt
    May 19 '14 at 11:41
  • @matt oh they know All the right answers .
    – user3143
    May 19 '14 at 11:48
  • Aren't six year olds incapable of the kind of logical leap that distinguishes the authority of a parent from the authority of anyone else telling them what to do? In other words, could the six year old really be telling the truth when she says "I dunno?" To put it another way, is either sibling experiencing from the parent figure significant consequences for their behavior that might motivate them to change that behavior and give the parent's words more weight, or do the children simply get more words from the parent? May 19 '14 at 18:29
  • @RobertHarvey - (1) they got punished previously for doing pretty much exactly same thing in exactly same circumstances; (2) my 8 YO has a well-above-average IQ. He could tell precisely when I was using reverse psychology on him at 2.5YO and successfully counteracted it....
    – user3143
    May 20 '14 at 0:22
  • @RobertHarvey - ... The whole point is that, at any time, he will fully and exaustively explain to you that yes, you should always listedn to parents first, and NOT listen to what anyone else tells him if it contradics the parents - especially a 6 YO sister. He'll even remember it tons of time... except when all over the sudden he goes "screw it, I'll do what my sister said despite knowing it's wrong"
    – user3143
    May 20 '14 at 0:23
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We handle it pretty much the same way we handle any other poor excuse for bad behaviour, such as "because I wanted to". We refuse to accept the excuse and they suffer the agreed on consequences of their misbehaviour.

The first few times my kids tried the "but he told me to" excuse I also explained to them:

  1. That they knew what was right and what was wrong.
  2. I fully expected them to always do what was right even if somebody told them to do something wrong. Even if the person telling them to do the bad thing was me.

I also explained to the child who had been encouraging the other that trying to encourage somebody to do something bad was wrong. If they encouraged their sibling to be naughty then they would suffer the same consequences as their sibling would for the actual misbehaviour.

After a couple of failed attempts at "He told me to" they no longer try it.

If it continues to be a problem with one of them - say the younger continues to misbehave if the older encourages them to do it - then you might want to talk to them about strategies to deal with the situation. Sit down and discuss with them "If your brother/sister tells you to do XYZ and you know its wrong, what do you think you should do?"

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Firstly- I wouldn't be too worried about this being "dangerous" behavior. Most of the time kids use the "they told me..." excuse as a way to get out of trouble.

I would be more worried about curbing the misbehaviors only to teach them that such excuses don't work and to discourage them from trying it, not because of peer pressure.

A way to do this would be to make it clear that the one who "told them" to do something isn't actually in the wrong, they, (the child who broke the rules) is actually in the wrong and penalize accordingly, depending on the age this could mean a time out or a loss of screen time for a day.

If you're worried about letting the one who told them to do wrong getting off consequence-free, I wouldn't worry about that. Simply teaching them that attempting them to get their siblings to do wrong will not work anymore. They will get tired of failed attempts and eventually stop.

Finally,

"a major sign that parental opinion and authority is held pretty low"

I wouldn't go that far. If you try the suggestions above (eg: time-out for 5 mins, or no screen time for 1/2 hour) this small act of rebellion will come to a close pretty quick. In addition to this, most kids are 10x more concerned with getting out of trouble in the moment than thinking long-term. It will blow over in a few years if you are patient!

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