Ganging Up

I was asked by a grandmother to help with handling her grandchild. She told me her 7-year-old grandson was about to be expelled from school because the teachers found him impossible to control. She told me horror stories that he was being so aggressive and beating up other children, disrupting classes, refusing to listen or be quiet, not doing homework and more. He was the third of four children with two older brothers 12 and 9 and a last born 4-year-old sister.

As I always do, I first looked to identify the PLG and ALG. From our discussion I gathered that her son-in-law was the more easy-going, soft-natured Prime loving parent in this family, while her daughter, the Additional Love provider, was a strong, outspoken and demanding parent who insisted on running her family like an army camp. Everyone, including her husband, had their duties lined up and, although the woman told me her daughter was not physically abusive to the children, if they failed to do her bidding, they suffered severe verbal reprimand, cold shoulder, belittling, time out, ostracism from family activities, etc.

In the first session attended by the grandmother alone, we agreed her daughter was bearing down too hard on this boy, which seemed to be the most likely cause of the pent-up anger he was displaying at school. So initially we thought she might tell her daughter to ease up on disciplining the boy, although we agreed this strategy might isolate him and make him feel different from the rest, singling him out from the others by giving him a little extra privilege, which the others might resent. In any case, she expressed she felt her daughter might not go along with this tactic, as she was not likely to change her ways. So for the next visit I asked this grandmother to bring the children to my office with her, and the dynamics I observed were truly revealing.

On first seeing the family as a group with their mother and grandmother, I noticed they were all very giggly and defensive, and their overall behavior didn’t lead me to any conclusions. The mother, though stern, did not appear to be making severe attempts at discipline, at least not in my presence. Then as I usually do, I took each child into my office separately and spoke with each one alone very casually, starting with the oldest. The 12-year-old seemed confident and courteous, informing me that he gets along well in school, achieves good grades and has many friends. The second boy, 9 years old, seemed by comparison rather passive, not as jovial as his brother, but unchallenging and compliant, and when asked, gave a similar report about achieving adequately in school and getting along well with others. However in passing when I asked him “How does it work between you children at home – do you all play together, do you play in groups, who plays with whom the most?”, in an effort to pinpoint Favoritism and any hostilities that might exist. He confided to me that his older brother was “the leader” of the pack among the children, and “we all usually follow him”. Then it came time to speak with the 7-year-old, the child in trouble alone in my room, while the others waited in the waiting area. I noticed that the oldest, his 12-year-old brother, insisted on standing behind the door and making slight noises, sometimes giggling, and was joined by the younger two. Soliciting the participation of his two younger siblings, 10 and 4, hovered around outside the door and had no hesitation about pretending to try to listen in to our conversation. Besides the fact that our privacy was being interrupted by their crowding near the door and making noise, he eventually pushed the door wide open and barged in with the other 2 children in tow, all in the spirit of creating a ruckus and joking about the matter! By the time the mother was able to discipline him it was already too late and our conversation had been disrupted.

It was obvious to me now that the oldest boy was leading the others to gang up on this 7-year-old boy, and that this was the most likely cause of the anger that was making him behave in an unruly manner in class. Next came the task of unraveling this situation, but in a case like this, once a pattern of interaction has been established where all the members of the family are entrenched in a certain mode of behavior and one child is singled out as the scapegoat, it becomes very difficult to reverse it. We must not forget that the parents, as well as outsiders, such as teachers and friends, are probably set in the same beliefs about the scapegoated child, and that these impressions have already been firmly established both on a social level as well as personally in the minds of each of the members and the boy himself. For the oldest boy, there seems to be some sadistic pleasure in tormenting this younger, weaker family member. Not only then do the parents and other adults have to change the way they see this child, but they must also change the way the other children behave toward him, the beliefs they hold about him, and the beliefs he holds about himself.

The best strategy is to try to separate the children as much as possible. Although one might try to reeducate them, it is not likely that the oldest will comply easily, as he apparently has much to gain in the way of self-aggrandizement by continuing the current pattern of torment. In particular the younger 9-year-old and 5-year-old should be separated both from the 12 and 7 year old.

-what is the favoritism sequence here

-next ganging up case.