We have 8 and 11 year old boys. They generally get along and people remark how well behaved and mature they are. The 11 year old, unfortunately, can be a bit clueless sometimes, and causes the 8 year old grief... For example, he might pick up the 8 year old's toy and fiddle with it, only to break it in seconds. But, more often than not they're best friends. The 8 year old can get very upset/frustrated with the older one when he's clueless, though. Just recently, the 11 year old broke a key prop for the 8 year old's Halloween costume, just about an hour before the party they were to go to. Feeling so bad for the 8 year old, I called around and then rushed out to find a replacement while the family was having supper.
When I got back, I heard this story: The two boys had reconciled and the 8 year old was calmly talking with the 11 year old about costumes, and, while at the top of the stairs the 8 year old said "I have an idea for you..." and pushed him down the stairs quite deliberately. Fortunately, the 11 year old landed well, but it could've been... my stomach is in knots thinking what it could've been. After it happened, allegedly the 11 year old shouted "what was that?!" and the 8 year old kept repeating "I'm sorry I'm sorry..." I asked him to explain why he did it, what he was thinking and he's at a loss, just saying "I don't know."
It wasn't heat-of-the-moment, though obviously there was history. It seems almost sadistic. Should I be worried about the 8 year old's mental health, here? Our "punishments" are usually natural and logical consequences, but I'm at a loss here.
No, this does not invite undue alarm. Yes, the result could have been serious. But in reality it was not. As you mention, the history is an important piece of the context. Hopefully your younger son will learn from the experience. Retaliating is one thing - running the risk of causing serious injury is another. Loss of some important privilege for several days would be very reasonable, along with doing 'something nice' for his brother as reparation for this overreaction.
Thanks for the advice. When something this shocking happens (and I do think I was literally in shock), it's hard to think straight.
One of the things I ended up doing with the younger one after school today was to sit him down to watch a part of a documentary with me that included a school-age girl who'd broken her neck. I wanted him to see what life was like now for her (paralysed, needs help breathing), see how it affected her family, etc. Next time he has one of these impulses, I want him to remember what can come of it.
I also told him that since the older one was the wronged party here, he should have a say in what the punishment was, too. The older one said all he wanted was for the younger one never to do anything like that again. I hope that leaves an impression, too, since the older one basically had him at his mercy and could've asked for anything then.
I hope he learns the lessons he needs to learn from this.
My only suggestion to you is to refrain from involving one of the children in discipline for the other. It's a parent's role to discipline children, not a sibling's role. It places the child in an uncomfortable position and does not contribute to mending relationships. Essentiall it blurs the parent/child boundary and this can be confusing for a child.
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