Behavior expectations

My husband and I have been married for five years. The first year into our marriage he won physical custody of his two sons (now ages 17 & 12). We have a one year old son, and the youngest stepson is very aggressive with baby. He puts toy guns to the baby's head and say " I'm going to kill you." He pretends to physically box or throw punches at the baby.

My husband says that's just the way he plays, but I get nervous anytime he comes around to the point I don't feel comfortable leaving the baby alone with the youngest SS. Please help!

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Sep 29, 2011
Stepson Threatens Baby
by: Laura Ramirez

You are right to be concerned when your 12-year old stepson threatens the baby. This is not play because play doesn't involve imagined harm to someone who is younger and more vulnerable. It sounds like the 12-year old is jealous of the baby and perhaps your husband defends the child's behavior because he feels guilty about something else. Many parents suffer from "guilty parenting" which only ends up enabling kids. For an explanation of this and why this happens a lot with parents who are divorced, see my parenting book.

If I were you, I would be concerned about leaving the baby alone with the 12-year old too because it is through play that kids often act out their real feelings. The next time the 12-year old talks like this, I would ask him what he means by this. Try to draw out the feelings beneath the words. Remind him that this is his baby brother because you are all part of the same family now. As a big brother, it is his job to help protect and take care of the baby. Tell him that the way he talks to the baby scares you and makes you think that you can't trust him with the baby. If the talk continues, then you need to act. It is important not to tolerate such talk or to dismiss it as "just playing."

It also sounds like you and your husband need to do some family relationships building exercises so that the 17 and 12 year old feel like they are part of your family and that the baby is their little brother. This way, as long as there are no serious emotional problems, the older boys will eventually come to love and want to protect your child.

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