Make Oldest Sibling Responsible for Keeping the Peace

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Question: Our 7-year-old son and 32-month-old daughter squabble with each other constantly, mostly over taking and playing with each other's toys.

The problem is our daughter, really. She will hit, scream and throw things when she is angry. She wants to be in her brother's room, to do whatever he is doing, and he will not close his door. He's not rough with her, but we know he deliberately aggravates her. We have tried giving them time-outs and separating them. With this sort of age gap, is there some way of stopping the almost-constant uproar?

Answer: Yes, there is. When sibling conflict involves a 2-year- old and an older child, any attempt to aim corrective discipline at the toddler is going to fall flat on its face. As I say in "Making the Terrible Twos Terrific!," this age child often is impervious to discipline.

Holding both children equally responsible for the problem isn't going to work until the younger child is at least 3, so until then, the only effective thing to do is to make the older child completely responsible for the problem. That might seem unfair, but the fact is that an older child ought to be able to prevent the problem from happening. In this case, the fact that your son enjoys aggravating his younger sister further justifies holding him responsible.

The solution is obvious and simple: Your son closes and, if necessary, locks his door. That accomplishes two things: First, it establishes a physical boundary between himself and his sister; second, she is forced to begin learning to entertain herself.

Allow one outburst a day. The second outburst means you're son's not accepting his responsibility for the problem. …