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I have two granddaughters, one turns 12 in August, the other is 10 years old and is small for her age (she was a prem baby). Her parents are divorced since the older child was 5 and the dad has a new partner and child and has no interest in his girls.

The older one is for ever hitting her sister. This behaviour has been going on for years and she won’t stop. I have suggested to my daughter my older granddaughter needs counselling. My husband and I have talked to our older granddaughter to try to get to the bottom of this, but it keeps happening. My daughter has withheld privileges and it hasn’t made a difference. Her mother (my daughter) says she cannot cope with this anymore. We are all at our wits' end.

Has anyone dealt with this and what worked? To whom can we turn to for help?

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    Hi and welcome to Parenting.SE! Please take the tour and read the help center. What have you and your daughter already tried? – Anne Daunted Jul 17 at 5:50
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    What steps has her mom taken to get her to stop? – Ben Jul 17 at 13:24
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    Hi and welcome. This is a Q&A site, and we need an actual question. It is important to include more detail in order to get a useful answer. How does she explain this behavior? How has her mother tried to protect the child from these behaviors? Is there a therapist or counselor involved? Is anything (even temporarily) effective at stopping this behavior? Details matter! Thanks. – anongoodnurse Jul 17 at 13:48
  • Hi and thank you for responding. – Lizzie Jul 18 at 8:38
  • I should have asked to whom do we turn to for help. I have suggested to my daughter my gd needs counselling. My husband and I have talked to our gd to try to get to the bottom of this.but it keeps happening. My daughter has withheld privileges and it hasn’t made a difference. Has anyone dealt with this and what worked. Thanks. – Lizzie Jul 18 at 8:43
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Sibling rivalry tends to be pretty common, and the reason it manifests is that, like everyone else, children have a need for love and when they're competing for it, they can feel a lot of resentment toward the person they're competing with. To bring into perspective how that can feel, imagine if your significant other suddenly got another wife (in a polygamous relationship) and you had to compete for his love and attention.

Now, you mention that the dad left and has no interest in his daughters, which I imagine might make it even tougher for the girls. Now they're competing for the limited time of a single parent and they've gone through the trauma of losing one parent's love.

So here's how I imagine the 12-year-old girl is feeling: she NEEDS love and care from her mother, she's very angry that her sister is taking her mother's attention away from her, and maybe she's also afraid that her mom could lose interest in her, just like her dad did. When her mother withheld privileges, her girl might have took that as a sign that she loves her less, which I imagine might have made the resentment stronger.

How to deal with this? There's an article in Czech that I would recommend, but as it's in Czech, I'll try to summarize its recommendations (feel free to try Google Translate on it, though). When I say "you" here, I mostly mean the mother, though it's still applicable to you as the grandmother:

1) Sit down with the older child and let her express herself openly about the younger child. Don't judge. If she hates her sister, let her say that without passing judgment. And let her see that you understand her by repeating what she says ("You'd rather it be just you and me, huh?" or "So you really dislike it how much attention I give to your sister?").

2) When the older daughter acts out, try to empathize and don't punish or yell. Take her by the side and let her express herself, what she feels in the moment, and be empathetic. Once she's expressed herself fully, only then express yourself, but in a non-judgmental way — only by describing your own feelings (sad, angry, ...) and needs (peace, love, harmony, ...). The child should know that, even though you're not happy after what happened, you still love her.

(This might seem counterintuitive, but think back to the polygamous example. If you're really mad at your husband's other wife, the last thing you need is your husband yelling at you.)

3) Plan some regular alone time with each of the children, to let both know that they're still loved and to let them have some special time with the one they love.

Your daughter can try to do this alone, but sitting down with a child openly without judging can be tough to do in practice, especially when you're mad at them. So it might be better to go visit a good family therapist (make sure the therapist has a good track record) and let them mediate the interaction. That said, if your daughter doesn't want to go, then it's still worth it to try the solutions above.

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  • Why do you not address the needs/feelings of the struck child? She is the one being abused in this situation. Pouring love on the abuser without addressing the wrongs done to the abusee? ("Peace, love, harmony" is all fine and good, but it does not take the sting away from the injustice of being struck for any reason. – anongoodnurse 22 hours ago
  • @anongoodnurse Agreed, the younger child shouldn't be ignored, and that's not at all what I'm recommending here. The younger child needs to know that she is loved, too, and the mother needs to devote just as much time to her and empathize with her too. However, since the problem laid out here is the hitting that the older child is doing, my answer's focused on the older child, to help rectify that behavior. – Tin Man 22 hours ago
  • The way that the wrongs are addressed is that you clearly express your feelings after they take place — your sadness and anger. Once the daughter understands how much she's hurting you, she'll be less motivated to hit her sister — she wants your love, after all. Punishments and yelling have the opposite effect. – Tin Man 21 hours ago
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    @DavidHedlund - I know this seems nit-picky, but intervention is crucial for the victim, more so even than the perpetrator. The victim is truly the innocent party here, and needs protection. Without this being addressed, you've solved less than half of the problem. – anongoodnurse 16 hours ago
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    Of the three suggestions, I like 3), but I think it's way too late for 1) and 2). The older daughter is hitting the younger one, and has been doing so for years. I think the time not to judge this behavior and let the older daughter express her feelings is long past. I'd second the "visit a good family therapist" suggestion. – Pascal 1 hour ago
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Her mother (my daughter) says she cannot cope with this anymore. We are all at our wits' end.

I can well imagine. I deeply sympathize.

Has anyone dealt with this and what worked? To whom can we turn to for help?

A lot of parents deal with this. A lot of parents don't know what to do anymore.

While I don't know all of what you've tried, I know it hasn't worked, and I also know that the 10 year old is being physically (and probably emotionally) abused by the 12 year old. No one deserves that kind of childhood and the pain they will carry into adulthood. It's time to step up efforts to stop this behavior.

  1. Get the 12 year old into counseling. With so little information (how does she act at school? Is she a good student who gets good grades? Does she bully anyone? Is she being bullied? There is much to know which has not been supplied.) I don't even know which type of counselor to suggest, but a family therapist is probably a good start, as this involves the whole family. From there, the abuser may need some individual counseling as well.

  2. In the US, we have Crisis Intervention Hotlines. You can call them for any number of problems, from suicidal thoughts to family dysfunction. They can help steer you to the right counselors/therapists as well, and can intervene until the meeting with the therapist. They can also assess the home situation and inform the therapist of issues the family may not consider a problem.

  3. Find an intervention that affects the 12 year old. I don't know what has been tried, but keep trying and "make the punishment fit the crime". One thing that I believe should happen is that the older daughter should be sent to her room immediately upon striking anyone, protecting the other from any further abuse. She should stay there for a significant amount of time without any means of communicating with the outside world. She's there for three reasons: for reflection on her actions, to try to learn self control, and to prevent repeated abuse of the 10 year old. For the first two things to happen, she needs to think, not text and surf.

Though my tone is severe, I'm sure you love both children, and all this can be done in love. But get the child/family into therapy as soon as possible. Please don't let finding a therapist be an obstacle.

  • Good answer. One nitpick: For the "thinking" in your point 3 to occur, I guess you'd also have to remove books and maybe all other opportunities to lose yourself in play, wouldn't you? That seems difficult to achieve. I'm not disagreeing with the communications ban, I just think that you can't really get her to reflect on why she's confined to her room unless she wants to do it - you might create a context where it's more likely, but that's basically all, right? That's actually something I'm struggling with myself, so I'd be interested in some more pointers here. – Pascal 1 hour ago
  • Good point. One could send her somewhere more stark like the basement? Though that sounds barbaric at first (it sounds too much like a dungeon), it would probably cause more reflection on the consequences of her behavior. And you're right, you can't force someone to reflect on their behavior. One can only give opportunities and hope. And seek professional help if it doesn't help. But one must protect the abusee. – anongoodnurse 1 hour ago
  • I tried that on a few occasions a few years ago with my oldest (not the basement, just a few steps down to the basement, which is even more boring). But I did feel bad about it, especially since it became clear quickly that he was afraid of being down there alone and I didn't want to use fear to teach, so I'm still looking for a solution that works. – Pascal 1 hour ago
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First of all, I am so sorry that you are all going through this. I know it can be a difficult situation, especially for the younger one who is the one of the receiving end.

I had a similar situation, although not that severe, with my now 6 and 3 year old. My 6 year old is a girl and the 3 year old is a boy. Well, she used to loveeee him when he was a baby. I mean she was crazy over him! Then he started to walk and start touching and trying to play with what she considered her toys. There were times when she would get aggressive against him. What helped was showing her how much it hurt him physically when she put her hands on him.

Like, lets say your older granddaughter slaps the younger one, then slap her back. Show her that this isn't a joke and she is actually hurting her sister. Just off the top of my head (I like to exaggerate things so my kids GET the point): Plan a day when the younger one can be out of the house, away from the eldest. Print a fake picture of a broken bone or something online and have mom sit down with the eldest and tell her that this is what happened because she hit her younger sister too much. Have an honest discussion as to why this is happening. Could it be that she misses her dad? Then have the younger sister come back a few hours later with a band aid or something (Kids wont know the difference) and hopefully she apologizes for her actions.. Again, you have my sympathy in this situation! Best of luck!

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    Do you really think a 12yo doesn’t know the difference between a cast and a band aid?!? Or needs to be hit to realize that hitting hurts? Sorry, but I don’t think you are on the right track here. Apart from that, the actual question is where to find professional help, which your post doesn’t address at all. – Stephie Sep 11 at 4:16
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    I read your other posts and would like to add a warning: the kind of exaggeration you suggest can backfire badly. Kids will at some point recognize it and then conclude (correctly, if we’re honest about it) that you lied to them. And that will undermine their trust and both your authority and credibility. Just imagine how a few years down the road you will want to warn your teenagers about e.g. drunk driving or safer sex - would you then want them to take your advice as “mom’s doing her exaggerating routine again”? – Stephie Sep 11 at 4:19
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    "Slap her back". Really? Hitting children is your child rearing advice? – David Hedlund Sep 11 at 10:07

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