How do we punish a child for hurting her sister?

Our 9-year-old has some passive aggressive issues going on. She has done little sly things to “hurt” our 2-year-old. We have caught the 9-year-old forcing the 2-year-old to hit herself.

The latest offense was purposely breaking our toddler’s Pooh Stacking cardboard blocks. She ripped one of them and then threw it away in the trash. We noticed it missing three days ago, and when we asked her if she knew where it was she played dumb. We looked high and low for the missing block (set of ten that stacks). Last night my husband and I finally recognized what we felt in our gut, that she must done something to the toy. It is our tot’s favorite and most-played-with toy. It was her only birthday toy gift from us.

We confronted her and told her we knew she did something to it. She said she wanted to talk to one of us alone by herself. We said, “No, tell us now what you did with it.” She said a few days ago she ripped it by accident and then she waited a few days until it was trash day and put it into a trash bag to be thrown out. These blocks are like super cardboard where it would take great force to smash it and rip it. She said when she was playing and her elbow fell on top of it. I guess this could be true, but with her track record it seems more likely that she smashed it on purpose.

We would normally spank her and ground her for a few days. One for the offense itself, and two for lying to us when we first ask her three days ago if she knew where it might be.

However we have planned a special birthday celebration for our 9-year-old. Her birthday is July 3. Both sets of grandparents have taken the day off from work and will be accompanying us to Disneyland. We also invited one of her friends to come along so she has someone of her own age to ride with her on the rides.

We don’t want to drag the grandparents into the punishment and unfortunately we have booked two nights at the Disneyland hotel (now too late to cancel) for us. We did this so that she can go the park with her friend and my husband to the wee hours of the night while the tot and I are resting in the room.

Do we cancel the Disneyland trip with grandparents? Do we just cancel the friend coming along? Do we postpone grounding her to after the birthday celebration? Or is grounding her too excessive? We have spanked her already (which didn’t produce any tears or any words of acknowledgment or remorse).

When she thinks no on is looking she does mean, sly things like holding a toy away from her sister or holding her balloon up too high for her to reach. But when we are in the room she acts like Mother Teresa. We are very frightened to leave them two together for any small amounts of time. Which is very sad. We think one day she will really hurt the tot, or that she will hold this jealousy and aggressiveness into both of their adulthoods.

The particular issue of the toy is not that difficult. An appropriate consequence would be to require your elder daughter to pay for a replacement for her sister. If you were planning to give her any spending money for the trip to Disneyland, you could require her to use that money to either pay for the toy or to make a “down payment” on paying for the toy. That way, she has an appropriate consequence and you do not have to cancel a special trip, inconvenience yourself or her grandparents, or disappoint an innocent child by revoking her friend’s invitation.

As for the larger issue of your elder daughter’s treatment of your younger child, it sounds like you may need to seek professional counseling for her – especially since you are worried that she may eventually truly hurt your toddler. You can obtain counseling or a referral to a counselor in your area from the Pastoral Solutions Institute, a Catholic counseling apostolate.

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