Tuesday Topic: Bullying in the Family

This week’s Tuesday Topic comes from Dawn. She presented this painful scenario that many families know all too well.

I am wondering how you deal with bullying between siblings? Our newly adopted children have taken to bullying one of our younger adopted children. The older adopted children are biological siblings and stick together no matter what. Our son is the older of the siblings and seems to “control” the relationship with his younger biological sibling. Because he has decided he does not like our daughter that has been home for 6 years, he has turned his biological sister against our younger daughter as well. Our younger daughter struggles socially and is very meek and timid so we realize she is an easy “target”.

We never let our son and younger daughter alone together, but he still intimidates her by laughing at her, pushing her as she walks by, taunting her, etc. We are at a loss how to deal with his behavior and language is still a barrier. When we witness the behavior, we immediately address it by letting him know it is not acceptable. Help! I would love to get advice from parents who have “been there, done that”.

This question touches something deep in me and makes me so sad.  It is a challenge to love and protect all of our children – some from harm and others from their own behaviors that are actually damaging and not healing.

Please take a moment to leave a comment and an encouraging word for Dawn. I’m sure that there are many families who would love to hear your thoughts.

Many blessings to you, my friends, today.

Lisa

 

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Let me introduce myself. Russ and I are the parents of twelve children by birth and adoption, and sometimes more through foster care. I'm the creator of One Thankful Mom which has been as much of a gift to me as to my readers. In 2011 I became a TBRI® Pracitioner* and have lived and breathed connected parenting ever since. I'm deeply honored to be the co-author, together with the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, of The Connected Parent; it is her final written work. I love speaking at events for adoptive and foster parents. I'm also the co-founder of The Adoption Connection, a podcast and resource site for adoptive moms. I mentor and encourage adoptive moms so you can find courage and hope in your journeys of loving your children well.

0 Comments

  1. Emily
    March 5, 2013

    Lisa- I'm remembering earlier posts you wrote about giving the attention after such a conflict to the child who was hurt.

    Reply
  2. Kelly
    March 5, 2013

    We are a foster and adoptive family. I understand the dynamic you are describing. It is a helpless feeling as a parent to watch those things unfold amongst your children.
    Here are my thoughts:
    Your oldest may be looking for some reassurance of your love. There is a new child, do you still love me? I would try to add whatever you can into your day to help him rest in your love. Notes on the pillow, a secret codeword between the two of you (the more nonsensical the better)… You two just pick a word and say it at random, for FUN!, scheduling a date walk, bike ride, hot cocoa on the porch, special 10 minutes after bedtime just for the two of you, etc may be in order to help love him back up.
    Also… we have used a simple "sorry action" when siblings aren't kind. Saying sorry is one thing, but we always have them "do" sorry to show it, (clearing their dinner plate, taking on one of their chores, making a card, etc).
    We find the quickest correction happens when one is inconvenienced by their own actions. 😉
    And lastly, when our two boys were modeling this behavior, we kept the two of them up late…. Got a giant bowl of ice cream and gave them each a spoon. They had to take turns giving the bowl to the other one after each bite… With a smile into the others eyes. It was hard for them, but with Dad as referee, and a giant bowl of goodness, they stayed to play.
    Those are all I can come up with, not knowing your specific situation. This is a hard job, but so worthwhile! Don't give up, Momma Bear, keep looking for ways to help teach your oldest empathy and ways to lighten things up around your home with playfulness. And keep seeking the Lord, He alone knows exactly what to do.

    Reply
  3. Tricia ♥
    March 5, 2013

    This has been our situation since we brought home our 2 oldest children from Ethiopia. The bullying has been from one of our bio children. Actually, this child was difficult and a bit of a bully before but the adoption brought it out even more and his bullying his bullying is now targeted towards our 2 older adopted children that are younger than him. I would LOVE to hear how others work through the constant, daily battle and how, as the Mom, you keep that gentle kindness in your voice and loving eyes towards the one that is bullying. I know it comes from his hurting deep down and somehow I need to find how to reach his heart but all too often I find myself feeling like "I'm so done with this behavior!" and just want peace in our home.

    Reply
  4. Kelly
    March 5, 2013

    Oh, forgive me… I see now that I had your progression of children to your home out of order. (That can happen with fatigue!). Just wanted you to know I will be praying for your family.

    Reply
  5. jgumm
    March 5, 2013

    That is a tough one. It's hard any time two siblings don't get along (an issue we have w/ our adopted daughter and bio son) but when it's downright bullying it's sad. How long have the two newly-adopted kids been home? It sounds like the brother is struggling with some jealousy, maybe still unsure of his place in the family and he sees the other daughter as competition.

    As I see it there are maybe two separate directions to pursue. One is to try and build up the relationship between the newly adopted daughter and the "veteran" daughter. Perhaps as that bond strengthens the sister will not be as susceptible to her brother's influence. Do they share a room? Do they enjoy some of the same activities? Maybe mom can do some things with just the two of them while dad has the brother – girl bonding!

    Then, what can you do to improve the relationship with the brother and the younger sister. Can you find an activity or outing they would enjoy – just the two of them. Could the work together on a project or game as a team? I've discovered that w/ my two in conflict, that much of it is a result of them never really taking the time to get to know each other. To see the strengths in the other person. I will sometimes ask them to list X number of positive things about the other person.

    I'm anxious to hear what others suggest because I think I'll get a lot out of the responses as well.

    Reply
  6. Shari
    March 5, 2013

    While the child who is doing the bullying definitely needs to be addressed, I think it's also important to address the response of the victim child. There can be a variety of responses from the victim child from anger, to hiding, to "being the victim" which can play into the taunter's actions. Christ was taunted and he said, "Father forgive them because they don't know what they are doing." This is far easier said than done. If the taunter doesn't get what he wants (a reaction, for whatever reason) he may stop.
    Also, for the taunter, it's good to ask what is he getting from doing this? Attention, making him feel important, retaliation? Seek to address this desire in different ways.

    Reply
  7. Dawn
    March 5, 2013

    This goes without saying, but we are zero tolerance bullying house. I still don't speak to my older brother because of what happened in my home while growing up._We have four boys and two girls. It's the three older boys (ages 6, 8 and 12) who tend to be in competion amongst themselves for eachother's time, energy, and affection. I have noticed a phenomenon in our household that whenever there is an odd number of children in any given situation that is when bullying (or ganging up) is most likely to occur. We simply have to supervise much more carefully when there are three or five kids in the room as opposed to two, four, or six.
    We have coping strategies like only two of the older boys spend the night at Grandma's at a time. If friends come over that make it an "odd man out" situation we give the "odd" child a special treat like computer time or a tv show during the visit. We don't allow them to be in a room with a door closed, and we only have two boys sharing a bedroom instead of three, etc. We also are also very intentional with spending quality alone time with each child on a regular basis. I am sure there are others that I am not thinking of right now.

    Reply
  8. Lisa N
    March 5, 2013

    I love Kelly's ice cream idea! Each of our adopted children have been bullies both at home and at school. It hasn't been an easy fix in our household, but we have had to set aside large blocks of time for bonding activities between parents and the child who is bullying. We pulled one of our children out of public school and have been homeschooling her this year. The one-on-one attention has somehow allowed her empathy to grow by leaps and bounds. It isn't easy, and the others have to sacrifice a bit and understand why, but for us it has been worth it in the long run. I have also designated a time (at bedtime) where our bullied child has one-on-one time with us nearly every day. I believe this time is a great source of comfort to her.

    Reply
  9. shannon2818
    March 5, 2013

    That's really difficult. We only have two kids and they're biological siblings. They're always fighting, but I guess that's just normal sibling behavior.

    Reply
  10. Debbie
    March 5, 2013

    I see lots of good advice. One of things we have done with chidlren that are struggling with sibling relationships is to keep the inappropriate child with Mom. That means in the room with me all day. Sounds boring, but it actually helps a lot with relationship between Mom and child. The careful thing about this is spending time with the other children. Sometimes the "tomato staked" child will need a "nap" or quiet time in his/her room so that I can interact with the other children one on one. Or even an earlier bedtime. One time I gave one of my daughters a lovely bubble bath soak so I could get some time to handle something with out her.

    We have done this more than once with different children. It usually helps a lot to alleviate the stress for the bullied child as welll as being able to love extra on that child that is inappropriate.

    Reply
  11. dballhome
    March 6, 2013

    This is so hard. We adopted out of birth order (just a little) and our newly adopted son, age 7 1/2 seemed to take out all his grief and anger on his 6-year-old sister (our bio child.) I think that some of it was jealousy — even though she was younger, she could do everything better than him — ride a bike, speak English and she was a precocious reader. I also wondered if some of it was the fact that he was coming from an orphanage situation where the older kids lorded it over the younger ones. He was the youngest boy in his room at the orphanage. Most of his bullying was verbal, but it was intense. (Think I'm going to divide this into 2 comments since it's getting long.)

    Reply
  12. dballhome
    March 6, 2013

    We handled the bullying by following Lisa's advice of always comforting the bullied, hurt child first. We then usually had our adopted son stop playing and sit near us for a few minutes We also taught him a simple script. "I'm sorry. Will you forgive me?" We also said it to him when we wronged him. At first, saying this seemed to really shame him or hurt his pride, but over a long, long time, he learned to use it, and now does it voluntarily. He seemed to intensly dislike his younger sister. We didn't push him to "be sweet to her," didn't force hugs and such, but we did take a strong stand that he couldn't be mean. 2 1/2 years later they get along well. Melted my heart to see him take his own money and go to Justice to personally pick out earrings for this sister's birthday this month. Progress!

    Reply
  13. Kelly
    March 6, 2013

    I agree with Debbie, about keeping the child with bullying tendencies with you at all times. We have been working with our son this way for five months now, and it is paying off! Oh, the hearts we are healing with Gods help, they are so full of need.
    We are standing with you, sweet Momma…. You are not alone…

    Reply
  14. Sharon
    March 6, 2013

    We dealt with this in our home for a good year and a half (or more?). It was so hard! A couple days ago the child who had been so hard on others said to me, "Mom, why was I so mean to (other child) when I first came home? I shouldn't have done that." It was a crazy, happy recognition of something I didn't think the child would ever remember, but it was even to the point of remembering that the sibling had been kind and patient. In some of those really hard days I never, ever imagined that it would turn around.

    Reply

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