Emotional blackmail



Blatant lying*

Victim blaming

Physical domineering**

*By blatant lying, I mean telling a lie that you can't possibly think the other party actually believes, and you tell the lie, not in order to be believed, but just to gain initiative or aggression in the conversation.

**By physical domineering, I mean things like cajoling him into hugs and then not releasing him, poking him when it makes him uncomfortable, grabbing his clothing to keep him close, things like this.

Older sib, age 14, does these things to younger sib, age 9. Younger sib has a fraternal twin who, while I wouldn't say older sib treats well, also doesn't almost ever receive any of the above treatments from older sib. And they all have another oldest sib (16) who is actively supportive and friendly to all of them.

I am not sure how to say this convincingly if someone were skeptical, but for what it's worth: Older sib does not get this behavior from me.

Do we know (from research I hope, but there can be other ways to know things) whether a kid who habitually does things to his or her siblings can be taught to understand they are doing this, that it matters, that there are other ways to do things, etc?

(I am divorced, with shared 50/50 custody. Ex spouse is aware of these problems to some degree, but we are unfortunately not friendly with each other and very different as parents so we don't have any joint approach.)

I help the younger sib by providing validation and rescue, and by being forthright, in front of younger sib, to older sib, about the inappropriateness of their behavior. I try to help younger sib feel secure in their relationship with me and secure in knowledge that I see what is happening and am responsive to it in a way that helps younger sib feel safe.

But I can't have eyes on both of them every time they are in the same room together. Indeed I'm only their custodial parent half the time, if for no other reason.

And I'm not quite to the point where I feel like it would make any sense to either of them if I literally forbid older sib from interacting with younger sib or something as extreme as that. (I mention this partly to let you know that, to be honest, lately, that's where my mind goes.)

Can a kid doing these things be talked out of it? Incentivized out of it? What do we know about this?

Things I already do:

  • Speak in a straightforward, clear and truthful way about what I see older sib doing

  • Speak for younger sib as necessary, saying things like "he said no," or asking younger sib directly "are you enjoying what you two are doing right now?"

  • Try to help older sib see younger sib's point of view

  • Try to avoid defensive or closed-minded reactions from older sib, by keeping stakes low for them, by not being punitive and instead being problem-solving oriented. (This is in response to extreme reactions older sib has to the prospect of being embarrassed or of suffering purely punitive consequences. It's tempting to say "be punitive anyway" but my experience with this child is that they do not take away any kind of understanding or lesson from that, but instead dig in and escalate. While there is an obvious power differential in the parent/child relationship, I don't believe in ever letting a conflict become about reinforcing that power, so rather than participate in an arms race, I try to find ways to defuse or do end runs around things that might trigger escalation from the kid.)

  • Allowing them to see and hear about my own frustration, disappointment, even anger, concerning their behavior, and being truthful to them about how it changes my own behavior towards them

  • The older sib does see a psychologist and a counselor for other issues, but only very unhappily, not feeling there is any use for these meetings. The meetings serve, to be honest, mostly as a pro forma certification that zoloft is continuing to help the kid with anxiety. While I'm going to be looking for an opportunity to broach this topic with one or both of those practitioners, past family therapy sessions and my own experience with the kid don't give me much of an expectation that it will help. (In the past, when talking about this together with the kid on a therapist's couch, and when the kid talked to that therapist alone, the only response was a sustained refusal to acknowledge any responsibility for their behavior and refusal to try any possible approach towards communicating more forthrightly about them. This was sustained over multiple meetings, and that therapist said to me towards the end that she was out of ideas. And I want to note, because I always fear "what if it's all me, what if my kid is just being normal and I'm being an awful parent in all this?" that the therapist was explicit that it was clear from our conversations that this was not the case at all and that I am genuinely trying to take constructive steps concerning actual problem behaviors.)

Well... anyway... I am seeking serious advice from experienced or informed points of view.

  • 2
    Your child has a therapist and a counselor (?) who should be able to answer your questions, perhaps better than we can. Why are they not addressing your child's emotional abuse of their sibling? What are they addressing? Are you getting help from a therapist on how to handle this? One-sided (vs. co-)parenting is very difficult, and a (family?) therapist can may be able to provide some insights. Aug 1, 2021 at 14:03
  • I was being polite @NadeemTaj - I could have said, "please don't bring gender stereotyping into this, as it is unnecessary"
    – Rory Alsop
    Aug 4, 2021 at 18:59
  • Very much appreciated. It's all about how we looking at things. Please pardon me in advance. I will ask, if I feel my comments or answer can help anyone.
    – Nadeem Taj
    Aug 4, 2021 at 19:17

1 Answer 1


My son had a great deal of influance about how to express himself, outside of my care, and the words he learned and the way he learned to share his feelings was asolutely unacceptable to me. He was mean, and he was insensitive to others, and everything was someone else's fault.

When he felt the need to share, he'd say what he had to say, and my response was this:

  1. I stopped moving
  2. I stopped talking
  3. I intentionally did not look at him

When he noticed that I wasn't moving he would stop and I would say:

"do you want to say that to my face?"

Only once did he say yes, and had the privilage of spending some time in time out. Every other time, by the time I was done asking my question, he had had time to think about what he'd said, and recognize that he did not want to repeat it.

He'd say "no," and we would go back to whatever we were doing.

My son was expressing himself, and I didn't want to stop him from doing that, but he had to learn that the way he was talking was not OK.

This might be something you could try with your daughter?

With regards to your 9yo son, I wonder if your speaking up for him might be sending an unintentional message, one that suggests he can't stand up for himself?

I would go a different way and talk to both your son and daughter and give them permission to raise their voice and speak up in response to each other, and use a phrase that you and your son and your daughter come up with together, that is acceptable to you, and is easy for them to remember.

For example, my daughter routinely invaded my son's personal space, and once in a while my son would do the same thing to her, so they both had permission to speak up and even yell if they had too, "get out of my space."

At first they couldn't say it with any conviction because they weren't sure what would happen, but as they learned that I would back them up if I needed too, they grew confident in telling the other "get out!"

They had to speak to each other first, but if that didn't work, I would send both kids to time out. That might sound odd, but by sending both of them, they both had a reason to leave each other alone.

There were days where they yelled at each other, but it wasn't an ugly mean screaming, it was the healthy yelling that they needed to do to learn to respect each other and see each other as equals.

You don't have to accept what your daughter says to your son. You can restrict her comments to something that is acceptable to you.

By the same token, your son can learn a response to his sister that's acceptable to you, and supports him as his sister's equal.

In this way, when they clash, you have a way to intervene where you speak only for yourself, and make it clear that they are equals and they have a way to work it out, and you have confidence in both of them that they will, or, you're going to send both of them to time out.

Your daughter really won't like that, and that is kind of the point.

By sending them both to time out, you level the playing field.

I don't recall what parenting book I learned about leveling the playing field, but it's a concept that I learned specifically to address the inequality that had developed between my two kids.

It worked for me and my kids, and I believe it would also work for you and yours.

  • 1
    "When he noticed that I wasn't moving he would stop and I would say: 'do you want to say that to my face?'" I wish I had had this in my repertoire when my kids were young! I might still be able to use it... :) Apr 29, 2022 at 12:59
  • Honestly, all that's doing is teaching him to keep quiet about those things around you. I'd be surprised if he wasn't still thinking them.
    – nick012000
    May 15, 2022 at 20:20
  • @nick012000, from my answer: "My son was expressing himself, and I didn't want to stop him from doing that, but he had to learn that the way he was talking was not OK."
    – user42851
    May 16, 2022 at 5:01

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