My younger two kids are both at the start of puberty. It’s a delicate and difficult time for kids. A time of change – not only their hormones and bodies, but with school too. My son is in year 7, my daughter in year 5 – her secondary school future occupying way more of our thoughts than it should do.

It is, sadly, a time when some children succumb to anxiety, stress and depression. For some, it will become a lifelong battle. It is not something any of us want for our own children. But none of our children are unbreakable.

My eldest has come through puberty unscathed. He was a sensitive, nervous child until the age of about 4, but is now the most resilient person I know. He can walk ridiculously long distances, he talks confidently and knowledgeably to adults, whether or not he knows them. He wants to climb mountains. He isn’t remotely put off by nasty weather when he’s hiking.

And he hasn’t stressed or worried about school for a single minute of his life.

The other two are not the same as him.

My daughter has incredible confidence and self-assurance on stage or in a dance class. Dance exams hold no fear for her whatsoever. But going to bed and going to sleep do. At night, when she can’t sleep and she is in tears, she is a very different person. I am aware that this could be the beginnings of anxiety, but I really hope it isn’t.

I also know that dancers can be susceptible to worries about weight and body image, which can ultimately become very damaging.

I always thought my younger son was strong until last year, when he surprised me by getting very upset about both his SATs and leaving primary school. He is a perfectionist, particularly about his art homework, and will sometimes spend way longer than is necessary on it because he has to get it just right. I see him starting to get stressed.

Recently, his school offered a ‘dealing with stress’ course to about 20% of the year 7s. The school asked for nominations from parents and said they would also put some children forward they thought could benefit from it.

My son did the course.

I’ll admit, I was quite surprised. But they had obviously seen what I see in him, what I thought he kept well hidden from the rest of the world.

They are both, in their own way, a little bit delicate. They need to be cared for and nurtured. They need to be congratulated for their triumphs and supported when things don’t quite as well as they’d hoped.

What they absolutely don’t need is a big brother criticising them constantly.

But, sadly, this is what they have.

He doesn’t understand why they’re not like him. Why they can’t cope with everything he can. He forgets they’re younger than him. Forgets that people are different, that people have different strengths and weaknesses. Forgets that parenting his siblings is not his job.

My younger son isn’t perfect. Like most boys his age, he spends far too long on screens and his personal hygiene can be questionable. He ‘forgets’ to do basic things like shower and brush his teeth.

These are issues for me, as his parent, to deal with. I can talk to him quietly about them, I can tell him off and get angry, I can take away privileges or I can reward. I do not need the ‘help’ of a 14 year old giant yelling at his brother that he is lazy or disgusting.

And I don’t need my younger son bursting into tears and slamming his door, retreating further and further into his little world because it feels like the only place he is safe from his brother.

But nothing I say or do can make my son understand the damage he could be doing to his younger siblings. Right now, he just lacks the empathy and understanding he needs.

The other day I yelled at him – yelled that he could be damaging them forever. I used words I’d never used before – depression, stress, anxiety, mental illness, anorexia, bulimia, drug addiction. These are words he is familiar with. Words that scare him. Words that he wouldn’t expect to trouble our little family. I wanted to shock him. I want him to understand that the way he treats his siblings could break them and lead to these things coming into our family.

I hope I’ve scared him enough to think about his actions. His brother and sister aren’t unbreakable and I’m not prepared to stand by and watch them get broken.

Author: Sarah Mummy

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  1. Oh no, what a difficult situation. I have to admit I’m a bit like your older son. I try not to criticise people but I do find I cope quite well with life and find it difficult to empathise with people who worry about things that seem straight forward to me.

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    • I think it’s great that there are people around like you who cope with everything! They seem to be so few and far in between. x

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  2. Much of what you have said in this post really resonates with me and I sympathise. You are not alone! I think in my eldest’s case, hormones are at play and he flexes his muscles from time to time with no particular sense of planning or forethought or awareness of consequences. I’m hopeful it’s a phase that will pass.

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    • Thanks very much, that’s reassuring for me to hear! I know I’ve read posts about your son in the past and I could have been reading about my own son. I’m sure it is just a phase. Let’s hope it passes before they do too much damage!

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  3. it’s a difficult situation but all too familiar, we tend to think of puberty as something that happens to our bodies, they change so our puberty is complete, but from experience puberty comes with learning to deal with these changes and is a very confusing time between wanting and needing to be an adult but not having the mental growth to match the physical growth, i hope the children are able to sort themselves out, if not can you speak with the younger 2 and explain some of the above about the eldest child?

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    • That is so helpful, thank you! It’s great to hear from someone who has been through it several times with boys. I will speak to the younger two about it. I don’t instantly blame the eldest for everything. I always try to get to the bottom of a situation and the younger two do get in trouble if they are the ones at fault.

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  4. I don’t know Sarah, as painful as it is for you to watch, I do think siblings push boundaries with each other in a way that tests them and prepares them for hearing and dealing with much tougher things in the outside world. I doubt your eldest is the cause of all their anxiety. My sister teased me badly but when it came to it she supported me too. All part of growing up. This sounds like a normal family unit to me. I’m sure your eldest will help your other two when they really have problems. I took everything out on my younger brother and we all soon learned to fight back. Deep down we remained a unit and we still are, after a lot of door slamming and tears too!

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    • Thanks very much. That’s good to hear! My brother and I fought from time to time, but we were always an equal match and there was never any sort of bullying about it. It wasn’t constant like it is with my kids. Possibly same-sex siblings fight more. I never did anything nasty to my sister as she is 9 years younger, so this all seems very alien to me.

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  5. Your post has struck a chord with me, I have two adult children who think they are my youngest kids parents. Sometimes it’s good as they will take them out or teach them things, but they can also nag them, tell them off and even ridicule them. They never remember that my youngest are different to them, that their childhood is different to theirs. It causes lots of tension in our house at times. So I can sympathise with you on this one and if you come up with some brilliant solution please let me know.

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    • Thanks very much! I’ll let you know if I do come up with a solution, but somehow I doubt I will. It’s interesting (although not good!) to hear that even adult children act in this way.

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  6. I can fully sympathise with you on this. I can see me being there in a few years with my oldest. I feel he lacks empathy at times and can be seen to bully his little brother, which I nip in the bud, but i think it could escalate. I am trying to teach him these things now. I hope he’s listened to what you have said and taken it on board. Hugs x

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    • Thanks very much. I hope he has too, but I’m not sure! He might be going a bit easier on his brother, but hasn’t eased up on his sister. Here’s hoping your biggest boy doesn’t go the same way. x

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  7. I hadn’t thought of this scenario, but I can see how this could develop between my two in a few years time as they’re so very different and empathise and sympathise differently. This must be so difficult because you can’t be omnipresent. I hope by jolting your oldest into thinking about what he said you may see some change, even if it’s over a longer period of time it’ll be better than nothing.
    Best of luck

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    • Thanks very much, I really hope so! I guess it’s likely to happen in a lot of families, but it doesn’t make it any easier to watch.

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  8. It must be such a juggling act to deal with all of this. I think back to what my mum had to handle and, of course, as a child you don’t really think of the implications. In some ways I am quite pleased that Grace is going to go through all of this without really influencing any one else. I feel for you x

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    • Thanks very much, it’s not easy! It certainly does make us appreciate what our own parents went through, although me and my siblings weren’t as bad as my kids! x

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  9. Wow, what an emotional post. It must be so hard having to juggle the needs of all three children wggjpt at the same time coping with the challenges of puberty. Hopefully it’s just a ‘phase’ and this episode has brought home to your eldest the realities of his actions

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    • It’s interesting for me to look back on this because my kids are definitely stronger now than they were then. My eldest still gives them a hard time every now and then, but I don’t worry about it like I used to because they are far more able to stand up for themselves. x

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