Is it okay for older siblings to play rough with their younger ones?

Jessie James asks: I like to stuff my little brother in the hamper and make him sit all squished up while I think of commands that he must obey or I punish him somehow. Others have suggested that this is abusive, but I find it appropriate to teach him discipline and compliance. I don’t see it as any worse than you trapping a squirrel in a hole of a tree and making him wait until you get called for dinner by your master. What do you think, Shirelle?

Hi Jessie James –


Thanks for your question about how you treat your brother.


Well, I guess I should first explain that, when I trap a squirrel in a hole, I’m not doing it to tease him or even “abuse” him.  He’s trapped himself in there till I get called to dinner, because he knows that if he comes out – he’ll be my dinner!  So it’s not quite the same thing here – which is very good news for your little brother!!!


In fact, the sort of teasing you’re describing sounds a lot more like something a cat would do than a dog.  Cats like to play with their prey a lot.  In fact, I get the sense that they’d rather play with a mouse or a bird than eat it.  We mutts aren’t that way at all – if we catch that animal, we want the reward of a full tummy right away!


Okay, so onto exactly what you’re doing with your brother.  I’ve known younger siblings who absolutely love games like you’re describing.   And the fact that he’s staying in the hamper, and playing with you at all, makes me think he’s one of those (other kids would scream their heads off!)


Younger siblings have an enormous craving for the attention of their older brothers and sisters, and will relish treatment that often looks abusive to others.  What adults often miss in this is that the younger sibling is actually feeling empowered by being treated this way; they are part of their idolized older sibling’s power!  When adults experience this, we call it Stockholm Syndrome, a form of mental illness.  But with kids, it’s absolutely normal.  The kid who enjoys having this time with his older brother today will be the one who adores being taught to ski or play tennis by you later.


However, I am a bit worried by some of your thoughts here.  First, your inclusion of “punishment” in the game sounds like it will take the fun out of it and make it a painful experience for your brother.  He’s probably already getting enough of a view of punishment from your parents and his school.  If you’re doing it too, he’ll learn that punishment is a way of life, and not just the result of real misbehavior.  People who grow up with that are more prone to become abusive of friends, spouses, children, and – yes – dogs.


But (hoping that your definition of “punishment” isn’t as bad as I’m talking about) I’ll say that the bigger problem is your belief that this game will teach your younger brother “discipline and compliance.”  Actually, it probably will teach him the opposite!  He’ll learn from you the joys of making silly demands, random punishment, or even caging others!   If you want your little brother to do what you ask him, the best way to accomplish that is to keep playing these games in ways he finds fun, and let him keep idolizing you, so that he continues to want to please you.


Remember one thing that lots of kids forget:  Someday that little brat of a sister or brother you have is going to grow up.  And often they end up bigger than you!  So have fun with them, but be careful what you’re teaching them – one day it might be you who ends up in the hamper!!!





About the Author

Leave a Reply 0 comments

Leave a Reply: