What do I do if my anxious child is bullying their siblings?

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Welcome to the Child Anxiety FACT podcast. FACT stands for frequently asked questions, and I’ll be answering your questions about child and teen anxiety. My name is Dawn Friedman, and I have been working with kids and families for over 30 years. As a preschool teacher, parent educator, family case manager, clinical counselor, and now is the facilitator of child anxiety support, a program for parents of anxious kids. Alright. Let’s get started. Hey, everybody. This week’s This question has to do with siblings and when anxious kids are bullying their siblings.

The exact question is, How do you balance accepting your child’s anxiety and helping them cope with it and not tolerate bullying their siblings? Well, that is a really great question, and let’s be really clear that helping someone with anxiety and Accepting they have anxiety does not mean accepting inappropriate behavior caused by anxiety. Now you know I’m a fan of Ross Greene who says kids do well if they can. And so, sure, We are accepting that our child is struggling to behave in appropriate ways and would if they could. That really speaks to how important it is that we help them do it. Let’s remember that anxious children generally aren’t feeling great about themselves. They’re feeling anxious about themselves, and they know when they’re behaving inappropriately. They start thinking of themselves as someone who does behave inappropriately. If you ask an anxious child, do you enjoy bullying their siblings? They might puff themselves up and say, yeah.

I’m a tough guy or whatever, or they might explain why their sibling deserves it. But trust me, most kids do not wanna be a bully. And when we offer them the opportunity to live up to our expectations, we’re also sending them the message that they can be better than they are. But how do we do that without shame? Right? I think that’s really what this question is about is How do I hold my child accountable for their behavior without creating shame? It’s a great question. Part of it is that we don’t shame them. We don’t say you’re a rotten person. You’re a bad person. We don’t say things like, How on earth can you behave this way? How can anybody behave this way? Instead, we say things like, I know you are anxious and I know you are anxious and you may not treat your sibling this way.

I know that you are worried and you may not speak to me this way. I know you’re upset and you may not trash your room. When it comes to bullying siblings, Our first reaction really needs to be to go towards the sibling who is being hurt. Because sometimes, the child who is anxious is Trying to get eyes on them, but this is not the way to do it. So we can say to them, you need to give me a minute while I check-in with your So you put eyes on them. Let them know, I see you. I will get to you, but right now, my attention is on the person who is being hurt or who has been hurt, whether that’s emotionally or physically. That’s another way that we hold our children accountable as we go towards the person who is hurt.

This is also helpful because very often in anxious families, a lot of the attention has necessarily been on the anxious kid, and the sibling may feel neglected or left out or why on earth do I not get attention when I’m behaving so well and my sibling is getting all the attention when they’re behaving poorly. So we put our attention on the sibling. We make sure they’re okay, and then we turn to the anxious child, and we explain to them that this is unacceptable, and they need to find another way to communicate. In gentle parenting families, we tend to be so great at seeing the emotion behind the behavior, which is wonderful, but we forget to pay attention to the behavior. It is okay and necessary that people live with consequences when they are behaving poorly. Consequences do not mean we invent a punishment. I’m against punishment, and then for consequences. What is the difference? Punishment is meant to harm.

It’s meant to make the child feel bad. It’s meant to make them, regret their decision. The focus is on, I’m going to try to create an emotional response in you that is negative. That’s punishment. Consequences are listen. People who behave this way don’t get access to these privileges or necessarily need to be removed. Not as punishment, but because if you can’t be safe right here in this family space. You need to go and take a break, take a breather, come back when you are capable of being with the family again.

I know people feel concerned about time out that that is pulling attention away when a child wants it. Sometimes time out’s not appropriate, but sometimes it is. I want you to think about your individual child, not some nebulous general child, and instead think, is this a child who needs away from the stimulation of the family? Who needs away from the attention? Is this a child who does better when they get some space from the situation? For that child, time out is better than time in. The other thing is time in, that is when we spend more attention with a child, does send the message, if you do a thing, you will get this result. It is a positive reinforcement to hurting other people. Don’t think about punishment. Think about consequences, and then Think about which consequences are sending an appropriate message to your child and helping them in moving forward in their growth and ability to not hurt other people. I mean, that can be a very basic rule in a family.

Right? We don’t hurt other people. Sometimes for some families, this may mean 1 parent will take a time in with the child while the other one is paying attention to the hurt child. Again, I want you to think about how do we do a time in without unintentionally rewarding the behavior. Now if you have listened to my podcast, you know I do not like to label children manipulative when really what’s happening is children have learned This is how to function to get something that I need or want. That’s not manipulative. That’s just smart. So do look and say, Am I rewarding this behavior? Is that the message that is going to serve my child? We are parenting for the future as well as right now. We are parenting to help support our child in growing into being their best selves as well as taking good care of them right now.

When we unintentionally reward behavior that is going to hurt the child long term, that is going to message to them that meltdowns and hurting other people and saying hurtful things is a good way to get attention. Does that really serve them? I would argue that it doesn’t, and so we need to figure out how to give them healthy limits that will serve them well in the future. So back to how do we take care of our anxious child, honor that they are operating as well as they can, and stop them from bullying their siblings. And that is we set the limit, and then we figure out how to create strong messaging that says we will hold this limit. It is going to take time. If you have a child who is very persistent in their behavior, someone who likes things the way they like them, When you switch it, you can expect the behavior to escalate. If you have a child who has big behaviors and you have been pouring a lot of attention into to trying to manage those behaviors, and now you are switching to focusing more on the kids who need it, withdrawing a little bit as an appropriate consequence, You can expect some of those behaviors to rev up again because the child is saying, wait. You usually put your eyes on me when I act up.

Maybe I need to act up bigger. Prepare for that, plan for that, and make sure you reconnect after. So when you pull back from your child and say, I need to pay attention to your sibling who’s been hurt, You need to take a breather. You need to get some space, whatever. They may rev up. You will deal with that. Don’t escalate it. Just stay focused on, I’m teaching my child these boundaries and limits, and it’s gonna take a minute.

And then afterwards, say, you know, we’re working on this Together as a family, we are going to keep working on it. I know that you are going to grow into your self control, and I am going to help you do that by holding these appropriate limits. I love you, and I believe in If you have a question you’d like me to address on the show, please go to child anxiety support.com slash question, and you can post it there. Maybe I’ll address it on a future episode. And if you’d like to learn more about my program, you can visit child anxiety support .com. Thanks so much, and have a great week.

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