What are pedagogically effective ways to punish a 14 year old for bullying the one that's 24 years old? There has been no effect in talking and explaining, and the younger one doesn't really go out with friends, especially so during quarantine,

The older one can't really defend themselves because of the age difference.

I can easily think of poor discipline methods:

  • Any corporal punishment (including cutting their hair or cutting their nails).

  • Any forced positive action (like forcing them to do the older sibling's chores or forcing them to eat something they dislike)

  • Confiscating electronics or money or limiting the use of electronics much more, so that lessons take place online.

So I am out of options for pedagogically effective punishment. I don't want the younger sibling to bully the older one but I want to pass on the messages: "We shouldn't bully people or hit them" and "Hitting is not fun" and not "If I bully I get [insert pedagogically inappropriate punishment]".

  • Please add some details about the nature of bullying any why the 24-year old is not able to defend themselves. Otherwise the question may be closed as being too broad.
    – user61034
    Apr 14, 2020 at 22:58
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    The 24 year old is entitled to reasonable self-defence against an assault, just as they would be when attacked by a stranger in the street. Apr 15, 2020 at 14:30
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    @GeorgeNtoulos Your original post said "The older one can't really defend themselves because of the age difference". They can. I agree that physical discipline is a separate matter. For that they would have whatever rights you chose to delegate to them (which would of course have to be legal under your local child protection laws). Apr 15, 2020 at 16:54
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    If you won't allow self-defense over legal technicalities, have you considered calling in the heavy artillery, i.e. calling the police? Assault is assault, be it between siblings or strangers. Assault is a crime.` It's illegal and getting the police involved should meet with your legally inclined position.
    – anongoodnurse
    Apr 15, 2020 at 19:40
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    "The onus of parenting is on me and not on the police. Otherwise I risk getting parenting removed from me or some other sanction." Spraying someone in the face with an insecticide is a crime; the potential for organophospate poisoning is not to be taken lightly. Maybe outside forces are what is called for since clearly you are not able to instill responsibility into your youngest and are stumped by consequences. Your concern should be for the protection of the innocent, not some sanction against you.
    – anongoodnurse
    Apr 16, 2020 at 12:34

3 Answers 3


This may end up a longer post than usual, so please bear with me.

First, I fee you have some of your premises of the question mixed up. In the current constellation, there are not three involved parties in one scenario, but two plus two, in two different problems.

  • First, the two siblings in a theoretically equal role.
  • Second, you and your younger child, with a (per definition) imbalance of power and responsibility.

But let's start at one end.

In your family, you seem to follow the "no violence, no physical resolution of conflicts" philosophy. Please remember that this is a highly civilized concept, almost philosophical, which requires a great maturity to not only implement ("I am not allowed to hit someone"), but to understand and value ("hitting is wrong, so I don't do it"). To be honest, there are plenty of adults that struggle with this, there are even cultures that follow different moral values. That's a quite ambitious goal, and laudable. Unfortunately, it's only really effective, when all involved parties agree to and abide by this ruleset.

In our family, there's a similar rule, which can (slightly simplified) be summarized as "no hitting". It also includes the rule "no permanent provocation until the other snaps and breaks the no-hittig-rule first". If one child decides that they are going to ignore this rule, the other is also no longer bound by it.

So if your older child gets attacked, it would be ok in my opinion for them to hit back or use whatever physical response they deem helpful at that moment. (I am assuming that you instilled enough responsibility and morals in the older child that they would respond in a way than would cause no permanent damage, e.g. hitting back, but not grab a kitchen knife and go after the younger.) It's a pretty "Stone Age" response, but you may be surprised how effective this approach can be. And there is a reason behind that suggestion: You hint that the younger child acts out in a state when they are the opposite of calm and controlled - in other words, when the logic-driven no-violence philosophy simply won't work because the brain is in another state. Now add to that the facts that the 14yo is in the middle of the brain remodeling of puberty, when self-control and logic actions is difficult plus the stress and the outer limitations of the Corona lockdown. There's a good chance that the 14yo simply can't process moral logic, because they run on mostly the more base brain functions - and the responses must be on a similar level to be understood. So in my very personal opinion, it could help to let some fur fly between the siblings when the 14yo acts out. If the 24yo is physically superior, even better. Let the 14yo find some limitations, boundaries can be a good thing.

That much for the first bullet point, sibling-sibling interaction.

You as a responsible parent should try to stay out of the immediate conflict - unless you were the target of the physical attack. Your job isn't to referee something they can solve amongst themselves. But of course there's a suitable approach: Don't think along the lines of "you did X to your siblings, so I select an arbitrary punishment because I think you need to be punished". A much better approach is "you acted out because..." and then find something that matches the cause. Some examples:

  • You felt undervalued.
    -> I have a task that will earn you praise, e.g. cooking dinner tonight.
  • You were bored.
    -> I have a task needing some solid thinking that you should do now. Then you aren't bored any longer. E.g. planning the meals for the next week, checking the available pantry staples, writing the list. Or sorting through their possessions / old books / the attic and selling the no longer needed stuff on Ebay - taking photos, writing the adds, the works.
  • You have too much pent-up energy
    -> Do something physically demanding to burn it off. (Hint: That could even be a trip to the nearest store to buy groceries. By bike or on foot. Or dropping a care packet at a distant location, e.g. an elderly relative or acquaintance. Of course the lockdown may pose some limitations right now, but this answer should still be usable after the Corona crisis.) By the same principle, the wallpaper in one of our basement rooms gets stripped slowly, an hour or two at a time, music blaring during that time. Chopping wood is also good, or gardening that involves hoeing or digging.
  • You tried to piss me off big time (yes, that's maybe a bit of an unfair one, but hey, we parents are also only humans and sometimes need to cement our rank).
    -> You get one of the disliked tasks in the family chores rotation. We will still all contribute, but while I unload the dishwasher, you will be scrubbing the bathtub (or the loo).
  • You need some alone-time.
    -> You get assigned a chore that happens in a room where we aren't at the moment.
  • You are aggressive due to circumstances you can't control.
    -> I let you "destroy" something. Old cartons that need to be teared down for recycling. Glasses can be smashed into instead of gently put into the container. Or the classic: Weeding. Yes, there my be some unnecessarily forceful stabbing at the weeds, but hey, if it makes you feel better?

In the end, you will still hand out some kind of sanction (someone who's folding laundry can't play computer games), but not for the sake of sanctioning. And who cares whether she's folding laundry and watching TV. So at the core it’s about directing energy from unwanted behavior(= threatening the social balance of the family setup, (self-)destructiveness) to what makes everyone, including the teen, more happy and content.

  • Is it permissible to respond when the attack ended? Wouldn't it be pure revenge? Is there any pedagogical value on delegating discipline and much more so a physical response to the older sibling? The younger throws a chess piece should the older one throw it back? Allowing a 24 yo man to respond physically when pumped up with his testosterone up in the sky after being sprayed with insecticide will inevitably lead to him standing up and punching the younger one or hurling something dangerous. When the younger one kicks him in the stomach or on the balls someone will get hurt. Apr 16, 2020 at 16:24
  • There will be no knives or hospital visits but there could easily be a bloody nose, a bruise or a black eye. Is it right not to intervene and let the older one respond physically when the attack has already ended? Self-defense is acceptable but revenge is questionable. Apr 16, 2020 at 16:27
  • Exactly. The "primitive" response is what I am suggesting for the sibling. You throw a chess piece, I trow it back. You push me, I push you back. And the 14 yo should know better than to spray someone with insecticide. While I am of course wary about a man hitting a woman exactly because of the physical disproportionality, a 14yo must know which physical fights to pick and which not. Immediate response falls into the self defense category in my book - yes, I noticed your comment on that earlier. Revenge would be if the 24yo suffers the attack now, then waits for the 14yo an hour later.
    – Stephie
    Apr 16, 2020 at 16:30
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    Maybe this kind of fur flying should have happened a few years earlier, but if a bruise or two now prevents further serious attacks (insecticide? seriously, what's next?), it's worth it, IMHO. Re. the different physical strength - there's always the option to pin down the younger/weaker, just demonstrating the superior physical power. Let her kick and scream, until worn out.
    – Stephie
    Apr 16, 2020 at 16:34
  • A side note not directly dressing the main question: At some point in time, it shouldn't be your responsibility as parent to deal with, let alone intervene in sibling conflicts. When they are, say, 44 and 34, they should long be in a kind of relationship where they can solve their conflicts alone. And somewhere between the toddler stage (where you are the 24/7 referee) and then, you need to phase yourself out and transition the responsibility to them. That will never be a smooth ride (personality, circumstances and maturity level change), but they should be somewhere in this transition now.
    – Stephie
    Apr 16, 2020 at 16:41

There are a few options I can think of in no particular order:

  1. Teach the older one the physical response you find appropriate if they won't otherwise respond.
  2. Impose a fine or award damages to the older sibling.
  3. Impose family service: extra chores.
  4. Confiscate beloved possessions: phone, favorite items of clothing, etc.
  5. Terminate privileges: sports/music lessons, having friends over or going out to see them.

You should also consider that doing nothing (or not escalating your response when a talk-down does not help) may be the worst option.

  • I don't think there is any physical response appropriate when the attack has finished. I don't know what damages I could award. There are no privilages on the first place to terminate. There is only regular school and the extracurricular English language school for lessons in the English language. The younger one stays mostly at home and now with the Quarantine is 24/7 at home. I know there definetely ARE better choices that not escalating my response when a talk-down fails it is just that I can't thing of any. I can easily identify a bad punishment but it is very difficult to identify good. Apr 16, 2020 at 12:29
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    @GeorgeNtoulos don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good here. A punishment can be imperfect and also be much better than doing nothing. Try whatever you can think of that seems the best, see if it helps. If not, try something else. You can't do nothing, though.
    – Kat
    Apr 22, 2020 at 3:29
  • @Kat I really do believe that there are many forms of punishemnt better than doing nothing. It is not just the best, the optimum that is better than no punishment at all, better than doing nothing. I simply believe likewise that there are many forms of punishment worse than doing nothing. I can easily identify what would be worse than doing nothing. I fail to identify anything better than doing nothing( I am not necessarily seeking the best/the optimum). I know that I should do definetely something. I am just not ready to take measures that I believe are worse than doing nothing,. Apr 22, 2020 at 10:14
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    @GeorgeNtoulos not all of the possible punishments you listed are great, obviously, but they're all better than letting one of your children abuse the other. Yes, ideally they would internalize that hurting others is wrong and simply stop, but if they haven't done that by 14, they're unlikely to spontaneously do so in the near future. Right now you are teaching them that they can abuse others without consequences. You're teaching them that restraining your impulses and obeying the rules will lead to you being abused (since that's what's happening to their sibling). Put a stop to this.
    – Kat
    Apr 22, 2020 at 15:38
  • @Kat Does confiscating electronics intensify the tendency to get addicted in them? How to confiscate electronics when they need them to communicate and have lessons during quarantine? If chores are given out as punishment as opposed to a rightful duty/obligation( Family Law itself says children must help proportionally to their capacity) will children become inclined to refuse to help( by doing chores) their parents unless it is given as a punishment? Apr 22, 2020 at 20:26

First of all, as it seems questioned by some, I want to weigh in that I think your ambition here is completely agreeable. I think you have correctly identified some of the reasons why punishment doesn't work. I think, however, you are asking for something unobtainable when you're essentially saying you want suggestions for punishments that doesn't have the drawbacks intent to punishments.

Punishment never teaches a value, at best it coerces compliance. I think what you're really asking for, albeit contrary to your subject line, is how to parent this behavior without the use of punishment, because punishment is terrible for all the reasons you mention and then some.

You're right that the older sibling is in no way entitled to retaliate. As you've pointed out, defending themselves is entirely unproblematic morally but in practice not always possible. In parenting your young adult, uphold that value, but also be very explicit that this is not something you think they should tolerate. There is a clear natural consequence to abusive behavior which is that you will simply not be very pleasant to be around. Make sure you make sufficient room for your oldest to dissociate from the abusive sibling; that there are no external expectations pressuring them to get along. The older sibling should simply not opt to spend time with their abuser.

In parenting the younger child, you definitely need to intervene, but intervening with love always has better outcomes than with punishment. Lean into the need that this child satisfies with violence, and provide better outlets. Stephie has already enumerated a set of possible causes. I'll also throw in that the older sibling may well be the chosen victim simply because there are no physical repercussions, and that this is a safe (for the abuser) outlet for problems in the their life that are sourced from outside your family entirely. It is imperative that you find out what's going on in their life in order to be able to determine how to help them out of this problem behaviour, and your only option of gaining access to that information is by gaining their trust that you have their best interest in mind. Authoritative parenting doesn't accomplish that.

It is not uncommon for parents to teenagers to ramp up their parenting in a last effort to cram as much good upbringing as possible into them before they're to a greater extent out of their control, but this is a stage where the child is working to acquire the skillset to transition into a functional independent adult, and would actually need freer reins in order to practice this. It is easy to get stuck in a downward spiral here, where destructive behavior begets ever tighter reins, which escalates the destructive behavior further. Sometimes, people who appear unable to act responsibly simply need an initial act of being trusted with responsibility. Consider whether you can put less parenting effort on the problem behavior, and work instead on finding a constructive project for the child to focus their attention on.

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