How do I stop my younger sister getting hurt?

by Lily
(England, UK)

I have read your other stories on this subject, but they all say to report it. I was wondering if anyone can think of different ideas.


I live with one of my older brothers because of problems with my mum and have done since I was six, my younger sister also lives with us and she is now seven and I am 14. My brother has always been like our dad to us, but he can be very pushy. When I was little I would get punished about school work as he wants us to do well. But he would often whip and slap me, etc., if my work wasn't up to his standards. It was horrible and all it achieved was that I started lying to him, causing him to get angry if I was caught. I have always done well in school, but teachers would often say I wasn't very social and I was slightly too mature. Alex never seemed to mind about that.

I am scared he is going to start being pushy and hurt Roxanne, my little sister, as he is already starting to tell her off for playing and just generally being like every other 7-year-old. She doesn't understand what's going on. I have tried to talk to Alex, but it got nowhere and just got me into more trouble.

Can you please help me find what to do? I'm not sure how to sort it out, as I love Alex and don't want him getting into trouble about it. I don't want my sister to put up with what I had to, as it just isn't fair on her. Please help.

Thank you

Reply from Darlene: The first thing I will say Lily is that you are a terrific sister; one, for caring so much, and two, for trying so hard to protect your little sister. I commend you for all your efforts at trying to keep Roxanne safe.

Lily, there's a very good reason I tell children and youth to report abuse: It's because as children—adolescent in your case—you have little or no power with a full grown adult. The only "idea" I would have been able to offer you, you said you tried without results; and that was to talk to your brother. Perhaps it's the way in which you talk to him that I can help you with, but I am not in any way advocating that you take this step, Lily. Only you can decide if it's safe enough to talk to him further.

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Jun 28, 2008
Part 2: A way to "talk" to your brother...
by: Darlene Barriere - Webmaster

The fact that you and your sister are in the care of your brother tells me that he himself may well have been abused growing up. Perhaps he knows no other way to "discipline" other than to inflict a great deal of pain and anguish. Perhaps getting to know your brother and what he came from would help the both of you. Again, let me reiterate that I am not advocating you do this...consider the possibility of sitting down with him in a very calm and non-threatening setting, and ask him what his childhood was like: "What was it like growing up for you, Alex?"

Maybe you already have the answer to this, the answer being that he himself WAS abused; if so, broach the subject with him. If you are successful at some type of disclosure from him, empathize with him: "It must have been very painful for you, Alex." If it feels safe and comfortable to do so, ask him how it felt to be mistreated, but ask in a way that shows understanding and compassion. Don't ask in a way that will bring to light what HE is doing for discipline. Open ended questions and statements work best in such situations. Your goal here is to slowly enlighten him, Lily. If you can show him that what he is doing causes a great deal of pain, then perhaps he will be more willing to look for other means of discipline in your home.

If, and only IF, it feels safe—perhaps not in the first conversation, but in subsequent discussions; this should be an ongoing process—perhaps calmly and non-judgmentally sharing with Alex that you were left in pain. That though you understand what he was trying to achieve, and that you love him for trying so hard, and that you love him for taking care of you and Roxanne, but that he hurt you. But IF you go this route, Lily, you must maintain a level of maturity that many adults have not achieved. IF you go this route, you must not turn it into an argument or finger-pointing, otherwise, the effort will be for naught. The truth is, Alex himself will have had to reach a certain level of maturity in order to "hear" what you have to say. If you show a great deal of maturity, perhaps he will be more open to listening. But there are no guarantees that he is even ready for such a conversation.

"Part 3: Considering talking to someone..." follows below.

Darlene Barriere
Violence & Abuse Prevention Educator
Author: On My Own Terms, A Memoir

Jun 28, 2008
Part 3: Consider talking to someone...
by: Darlene Barriere - Webmaster

The sad fact is, Lily, even if you DID report what your brother is doing, there is every possibility that it would classified as acceptable "discipline." You and I know that's not the case. You are a living example of what the repercussions are when whipping and slapping are used to discipline a child. But as far as I know, the law for parents and guardians in your country allow for corporal punishment; it's all about the degree of force used. Unless it can be shown that you and your sister are in danger with the type of discipline he has chosen to incorporate, the system will likely fail both you and your sister, even if you did report. If I'm wrong about this, perhaps one of my UK visitors can help with regard to your laws, and offer some additional assistance in the matter. None of this means that you or your sister deserves such treatment, Lily. That is NOT the case. YOU know that. I know that. My visitors know that.

Lily, before you do anything, consider contacting ChildLine on 0800 1111. Check out their website at www.donthideit.com for more information. The call is completely confidential. The counsellors there can help you with your options, and you in turn can give them even more details than what you were able to share with me about what your brother is doing, details that may point to what your laws would consider truly inappropriate discipline.

You are a caring and loving young woman, Lily. You deserve to grow up in a loving, nurturing and supportive home; a home that values you and your thoughts; a home that I believe your brother probably wants for you, but may not know how to provide. I hope for that kind of home for both you and your little sister.

Darlene Barriere
Violence & Abuse Prevention Educator
Author: On My Own Terms, A Memoir

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