Our 4 year old son has gotten into the habit of giving his 16-month old sister "bad advice". Some examples:

  • At dinner, she pushes her plate away. He'll start egging her on "push it off the table! Push it on the floor!"
  • In the car, she often takes her socks & shoes off. He'll start egging her on even if she hasn't considered it

Usually he'll ignore us when we ask him to stop. Even sending him to timeout or taking privileges (which both seem extreme for this, usually) doesn't really work.

Any thoughts on getting him to stop? Most likely he's just doing it because we react, so ignoring it might work eventually, but that's a lot of dinner on the floor :)

3 Answers 3


Get him alone, get him receptive (be in communication with him and be willing to hear what he has to say), don't try this when he's defensive already or ignoring you or pretending you're not there or not saying anything—and then have a talk with him.

Here's roughly how I would do it:

"You're a big brother now. Did you know that?"

He might ignore the first time you say it. Don't get annoyed, don't raise your voice. Just acknowledge whatever he says, even if completely disrelated ("I'm wearing socks!") and then say the above again.

"Hey, I got that; you're wearing socks. Okay. Hey—you're a big brother now. Did you know that?"

If you do this more than a couple times, don't get impatient. Don't get annoyed. Instead, you might try (very calmly, without even a hint of annoyance), "Hey, I said something. Did you hear that I said something?" If it doesn't seem dangerous to answer you, because you're just friendly and in communication, he'll eventually say, "Yes, I heard you." Then you say, "Okay, good. Did you know you're a big brother now?"

He'll probably say, "Yes, I did." Or maybe he'll be being contrary and he'll say, "No."

If he says "yes" you acknowledge him—"Okay, good!" and go on to the next step.

If he says "no," again, don't get annoyed—just tell him: "Okay, I got that. Well I'm letting you know now: You're a big brother. Did you get that?"

Again, if he ignores you (or asserts through his actions that "you didn't say anything," which is different from ignoring), don't get annoyed. (I can't stress that enough.) Be, yourself, safe for him to talk to. And carry on to get the communication through, without annoyance or other negative emotions.

I would even go so far, if he tried to run away from the conversation, to grab him in my arms (gently, friendly) and just gently repeat, "Hey, so you're a big brother now. Did you get that?" "Let me go!" "Did you get what I said?" The key is gently. It's done with understanding; understanding will melt his "ignoring" of you.

Once you've gotten it across that he's a big brother now, you can tell him, by the same methods, that his little sister will learn things from him. (Once you've gotten the first statement across, in my experience, you won't have much trouble with receptiveness for the rest of it.)

"Your little sister will learn things from you. Did you know that?"


Or: "No." "Okay. Well, do you remember last week, when she saw you picking up a fork and she picked up her fork?" "Yes." "Okay. She does learn things from you."

"And, she can learn good things from you, or bad things." (Just get a nod, or a receptive look that he is continuing to listen.)

"You're a very good boy, almost all of the time." (Even if you don't think this is true, it is. You need to have your mental attitude in place expecting your son to be an amazingly good boy. Then you can communicate this with sincerity and make it even more true.)

"We would like you to help your sister to be a good girl, also."

"What do you think about that? Does that sound like a good idea?" He'll say, "Yes." Or else find out what he does think about it.

Then, thank him for listening. And let him go play. "Okay, thank you! I'm glad. Now, you want to go to the kitchen and play with your mommy?" (Or whatever he was seeking to do next before you started the conversation.) "Yes." "Okay, you go ahead. I love you!"

I doubt you'll have much trouble with the subject again.

Getting really into communication with him is the key. It's pure magic.

  • 1
    This kind of thing will dissipate any jealousy he may be feeling. Great answer.
    – Pete B.
    Dec 13, 2016 at 15:24

I would recommend you, to let him take the consequences, as long as they are minor. For example: Ff he tells your younger one to push the plate from the table, let it happen and then he has to clean it up. Make sure that he understands that he is fixing a mess that he caused, explain it to him if he seems to believe that he wasn't responsible. It will take it's time especially in the beginning you can expect to argue an hour about even 5 minute work, but he should get it relatively fast.

Also you can rise you voice to make clear that you are not amused with him but don't overdo it, the goal is to teach him about actions and consequences not to scare him or ruin your relationship.

  • 1
    Just my opinion, but when we start with a negative response, we encourage a negative response.
    – WRX
    Dec 13, 2016 at 12:53
  • I think a response should be fitting the situation, a positive response to a negative action could encourage it, also children learn from the reactions of their parents, so showing that you strongly disagree with what they are doing, will change their behaviour. Of course if children do good thing these need to be encouraged with positive reactions as well.
    – Etaila
    Dec 13, 2016 at 13:36
  • 3
    Quote from OP: "Usually he'll ignore us when we ask him to stop. Even sending him to timeout or taking privileges (which both seem extreme for this, usually) doesn't really work." So, they've tried consequences and are asking for other ideas. My 'other idea' is to try positive. 30 years as a behaviourist taught me this method. It works for me, but not for everyone. The OP needs to select ideas that they can comfortably try and will do no harm. Just my opinion, @Etaila.
    – WRX
    Dec 13, 2016 at 16:30
  • 3
    I don't see it as negative, I see it as natural consequence. He indirectly made a mess, so he cleans it up.
    – swbarnes2
    Dec 13, 2016 at 21:29
  • 1
    I agree with @Etaila here; cleaning up the mess is not negative, it's the appropriate response. Just as if my son knocks off his milk, he cleans it up (with no fault assigned: he may have intended to do it, or he may have done by accident, but the point is it's a mess that needs cleaning). If he encourages his brother to make a mess, then he should help his brother clean it up.
    – Joe
    Dec 14, 2016 at 15:19

I don't have a great answer as I have not been through this except with my own brother as a child.

This sounds like sibling rivalry to me. Your son is feeling like his little sister gets more attention -- and likely she does. She is in need of more attention. That might not be strictly true -- she gets baby attention and he gets bigger boy attention that his sister doesn't get. Try pointing out what she isn't big enough to do, to him. "Look, you are getting a big boy 'thing'. Your sister is too little." Maybe get her to bed first and then read only to him. "You get to stay up later because you are my big boy."

I would recommend that you offer to spend time with your son if he stops asking his sister to do naughty things. He likely thinks he can get her in trouble and even if he doesn't -- bad attention is better than no attention. This is his logic at work. It isn't about what you think is right or fair -- he is making these choices based on his feelings. So if he tells her to take off her socks, you say, "If you stop doing that, we can colour or read or play with your Legos."

When we are good it often, even most often, goes unnoticed. However, we are nearly always noticed when we act out. This is so hard because adults have responsibilities and the focus cannot always be on things that are not happening. So it is hard to fix.

You might try setting a vibrating alarm that reminds you to look and compliment your son. Never compliment anything untrue. It has to be real. But it is perfectly okay to find a bunch of ways to say that you notice/like/ see that he is being a good boy or a good son or brother. You can also give him opportunities to help you. He can remove clothes from the dryer. He can help pick up toys with you. Then you get to tell him what a great kid he is. Just telling him that you love him is a compliment and is true.

I imagine there are better answers from people who've lived it. Parenting is an emotional rollercoaster. As soon as you get through one thing, hello -- here's another. Lean on other parents. Come back here with the next issue and share with your friends and relatives. Select and try the things that sound right to you. None of us is in your home or understand all the nuances. But we can listen and we can offer suggestions and hope. Good luck!

  • I am not sure that this would work. He might get used to the special treatment, and demand it later from classmates and colleges. I got special treatment because I lost my mother when I was very young and my stepmother and father where concerned that I would take mental damage because of that. Ironically the fact that I got special treatment before my a little bit younger brother, made me an outcast and victim for bulling until I pulled myself out when I was already 24.
    – Etaila
    Dec 13, 2016 at 11:26
  • I think that being mindful of the needs of each of our children is important. I am not suggesting that 'special' treatment be given. I am suggesting that the parent is mindful of the little boy's needs and positively direct him to recognise that he is getting attention. It is so easy for any person to only deal with the things we must and my idea is to help the parent see a little beyond that. I am sorry that you were harmed by your parents good intentions. I assume they meant only the best for you. Regardless, this is advice and the parent/OP can decide if it has any merit for them at all.
    – WRX
    Dec 13, 2016 at 12:52
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    The way you phrased your answer, it seemed like you where advising to give the boy a huge amount of extra attention. Since it seems like I misunderstood you, it is not unlikely that OP might misunderstand you as well, so pointing it out is not as unnecessary as you might think.
    – Etaila
    Dec 13, 2016 at 13:41

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