“My 3 and half year old has suddenly started hitting out at her little brother. We’ve tried time out but it’s getting worse not better”.

So hard!! We always want our kids to get on but the birth of a new sibling is often a mixture of both happiness and stress for older children.  This odd mix of love and annoyance is likely to persist in different ways throughout their relationship, so helping support them with their more negative feelings early on is important.

Most parents try to stop disruptive or hurtful behaviour through discipline.  It’s important to remember that the word ‘discipline’ comes from the root word ‘discere’ which means ‘to learn’ – so you are teaching not punishing.  To get to the teaching moment you first need to:   

Regulate: calm the anger.  Different techniques work for different families but you could try having a song that you hum or sing to help you regulate ‘Baa baa black sheep’ or ‘Tutira mai’ for example.

Soothing, rhythmic words said slowly and calmly – even something repetitive like ‘pause pause pause; ‘breathe breathe breathe’.  

Relate: let them know you understand the situation or the emotion.  “I can see you are so upset/angry”.  Take a guess at the reason “It’s hard when your brother always needs my attention and you have to wait”; “you’re upset because he knocked down the blocks you were building”.  

Reason: Finally – the teaching moment!!! Now both of you are calm and connected, your child can listen to reason.  “He’s too little to understand that you wanted him to play”; “how about when you feel like this, you shout out a colour (choose one for different emotions between you) to let me know?” “Hitting out is not OK, so how about you …. (work out better ways together for her to express frustration).