Bullying or Belittling?


Sibling Bullying vs. Belittling

Our 12 and 10 ½ year old sons are very different kids. We call the oldest “the lawyer.” He’s an over-achiever, good in sports, and highly conscientious/sometimes anxious. We refer to his younger brother as “the quiet one.” He’s smart with an incredible imagination, does well in school, decent in sports (but not that interested), and enjoys spending time alone. A shadow is cast by the older one’s achievements, of which the younger mostly brushes off. As parents, we work hard to embrace their differences and not compare, recognizing that they were designed differently. Parenting is complicated by a divorce/joint custody and the fact that I identify with the oldest well and their dad identifies and “constantly sticks up for” the younger, who is incidentally a middle child (they have an 8 year-old sister).

Yesterday was the first day of school and the older asked the younger if he had any homework. He replied, “No,” to which the older retorted, “That’s because no one pays you attention because you don’t have any potential.” Is this bullying or just belittling? Dad responded in anger with a required apology. Villain-imposed punishment was a 2-week screen time privilege-loss, plus he would “do whatever the victim asks of him.” Of course the 12-year old said he was just joking and didn’t offer an apology until forced. Do you have any suggestions on how to handle (or not to handle) these conflicts in the future? Despite their differences, they generally get along well aside from minor teasing/arguing. Thank you!

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