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At Each Other's Throats: How do You Handle Sibling Aggression?

Posted by Susan Engel

My 6 year-old son has developed a rather creative form of aggression. Unable to come up with anything more accurate or artistic, the name that my other (9 year-old) son, my fiance, and I settled on is the word chinny.

Here’s how it works: If my younger son wants someone’s attention (typically that of his older brother) for whatever reason, he approaches that person with a wide grin, wraps his arms around them in an apparent sweet embrace, places his head against whatever part he’s embracing and proceeds to dig his chin into that area … shoulder, arm, leg, whatever. The quick back-and-forth motion and increasing pressure of his chin causes an exquisite kind of pain-and he knows it. The grin rarely leaves his face during the entire time that he performs this clever maneuver-it just subtly changes from an innocent “Aren’t I sweet?” grin to a sly “I’ve got you now!” grin.

My son created this thinly-veiled form of aggression a few years ago … perhaps it was around 3-4 years of age. I assume that he happened upon it by accident, and by necessity (after all, he does have an older brother). Upon discovering that blatantly hitting or biting someone was “not okay” and lacking a vast vocabulary, he had to come up with some innovative method for displaying his anger, frustration, or just plain old desire for attention.

My guess is that, while genuinely hugging one of us one day, he inadvertently pressed his face into the person’s shoulder with a little more enthusiasm and pushed down, unintentionally causing an electric shock to rip through the recipient’s shoulder. Perhaps he was just as surprised by the immediate jump backward and instinctively uttered “Ouch!” as was by the one being hugged. After all, hugging someone you care about is okay … right? It is possible that, after a few of these accidental/coincidental episodes, he realized the deceptive power that this move held.

With time, of course, my son caught on to the mechanics and timing of the “chinny” maneuver. After a few scoldings, he soon realized that “chinnies” were not okay. Nevertheless, he still gets away with a few now and then because, quite frankly, it is sometimes difficult to predict when he will authentically hug someone or when he will strike with a strategically-placed “chinny” until after the fact. Thankfully, as the years go by, I am becoming a little more astute about predicting the difference between the aggressive (“chinny”) vs. non-aggressive hug.

Kids find all sorts of remarkable and imaginative ways to be cute and cuddly. We have all read about them … those precious moments when our child endears themselves to us in a surprisingly original fashion. But what about crafty methods of aggression? I would love to hear your story about such an experience-whether you’re a parent, grandparent, guardian, sibling, babysitter, or anyone else makes no difference to me. We can all share our amusement about how sly and resourceful our kids can be!


About Susan Engel

Susan Engel is a mother of two, writer and parent blogger for Empowering Parents.

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