Sibling bullying is a lot more common than most people believe. A lot of the time, people confuse sibling bullying with sibling rivalry; they are not the same. This is a situation that can escalate quickly and get out of hand if the proper measures are not taken. The family home is where one feels safe the most, but what if your bully lives right in the room next to you?
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What Is Sibling Bullying?
Sibling bullying is a form of violence that takes place between siblings. This kind of bullying is common when siblings are children, but it can also carry into adulthood which is known as adult sibling bullying.
Many parents overlook the warning signs of sibling bullying. Bickering back and forth between siblings is common and expected, but there is a line that should not be crossed. There are four warning signs that parents should be on the look-out for which include:
- Foul insults
- Physical aggression
- Ganging up (common when more than 2 siblings are involved)
1. Foul Insults
Foul or harsh insults are the common warning signs of sibling bullying. Insults can do more damage to a child than physical abuse. The famous saying, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” is a false statement in this situation. Words can do a lot of damage to a child, especially when it comes from someone within their immediate family.
Harsh insults can kill a child’s self-esteem, causing them to have issues later on in life. Common insults of sibling bullying include, “you’re not pretty,” “you’re fat,” “you’re the stupidest person I know,” and “you will be a failure all of your life.” Any form of negativity from one sibling to another should be addressed immediately.
2. Physical Aggression
Children can become extremely frustrated because their emotions are still new to them, and they may not know how to sit down and discuss the things that are bothering them. Instead, they lash out at their siblings which is a form of physical aggression. This form of aggression can be categorized as:
- Hair pulling
Although siblings are expected to disagree on different things and have arguments, physical aggression should not be tolerated under any circumstances.
Many children have been known to throw things and have tantrums, but there is a line that should not be crossed. Damage to anything or pure destruction can result in one sibling destroying another sibling’s favorite item, such as a toy, or an item that is similar. Sometimes pets are targeted as a way to hurt their sibling.
4. The “Gang Up”
Siblings can gang up on each other when there are three siblings or more. Two siblings may gang up on the other, causing an unfair fight. There is one sibling who is left out, and consequences of this for the lonely sibling could one day take a turn for the worst. Depression and anxiety could develop, just to name a few.
There are a few causes of sibling bullying that some parents may not be aware of.
1. Feeling Unwanted
Some children feel unwanted by their parents, and this can sometimes cause sibling bullying to occur.
Not all children are privileged to live in a safe neighborhood and have food to eat and clothes to wear. A child can become frustrated under these circumstances and take it out on their siblings.
3. Playing the Parent
A lot of the time, the oldest child has to “play the parent.” When children are forced to play the parent, they do everything the parent is supposed to do, such as cook, clean, help younger children with their homework, bathe their younger siblings, get their siblings ready for school, and things that are similar. A child who plays the parent role does not have a chance to enjoy their childhood because they are forced to take on a responsibility that is not theirs too early in life. This much responsibility can cause a child to become depressed, have anxiety, and lose sight of their goals.
Jealousy is common among siblings, but this situation can take a turn for the worst. Some parents make this situation worse by showing one child more attention than the other. Sometimes this form of jealousy is made up in a child’s mind, and sometimes it is not.
Another reason jealousy would become an issue between siblings is because one sibling is achieving more than the other. No one wants to be considered a failure, and when one sibling feels they always have to compare, it can result in negative feelings like malice and envy, and sibling bullying can become an issue.
1. Stop Aggressive Behavior
Aggression should be stopped immediately. Name calling and fighting are signs of aggression that should not be tolerated. In this situation, an adult needs to intervene immediately and talk with the children.
2. Holding Accountability
The sibling doing the bullying needs to be held accountable for their actions. Bullies need to know that bullying is a choice and is not a necessity. Regardless of the child’s reasons for their actions, they need to be held responsible for the things they say and do.
3. Remove Jealousy within the Home
Removing jealousy within the home is difficult because a lot of parents are not sure what triggers their child to become jealous. In this situation, the best thing to do is diffuse the jealousy within the home and have a talk with your child and find out what’s bothering them.
4. Teaching and Learning
A parent needs to be a good role model for their child. In some situations, the parents are great role models, but the child takes a different path, often due to other influences, such as friends and their surroundings. In any event, teach your child how to respect others, especially their siblings, and teach them what being a family and a respectful citizen is about.
One way you could get the message across to your child that bullying is wrong is to instill empathy within them. Teach your child what bullying is and show them how it feels. This is a great way to teach them to identify with the situation and how it feels to be the victim in the situation.
6. Problem Solving Skills
Sibling bullying can be caused by the lack of problem solving skills. Teach your child effective techniques to help them solve problems instead of expressing how they feel with anger.
Although you can’t do anything about the past, you can do something about the future. Monitor your children and see if there is a pattern. If you can identify a pattern, break the cycle, and put something positive in its place.
Sibling bullying is a lot easier to deal with than other forms of bullying. A lot of parents take comfort in the fact that they can discipline their child when something is wrong, rather than wait for the parent of the other child to take action. Sibling bullying is a common form of bullying, but that does not make it right. Children need to keep their hands and other objects to themselves. For some children, this is a lot easier said than done.
If you find yourself in this situation, it will be in your best interest to stop everything, and find out what the issue is between your children. One of the last things you want to happen is to overlook the signs of sibling bullying, and have this situation escalate into something more, and turn into adult sibling bullying when your children are older.
Sibling Bullying Doubles a Child’s Risk of Depression, Self Harm and Anxiety
A recent study, published in September 2014, spanning about 7,000 people in the United Kingdom, revealed that those bullied by brothers or sisters were more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety and self harm than those who weren’t bullied.
A direct quote from the study says “In contrast, sibling bullying is neglected by researchers, clinicians, and policymakers.”
The researchers, led by Lucy Bowes from the University of Oxford said that tools that already exist to improve sibling relationships should also be tested for effectiveness.
For this study, the researchers followed 6,928 children from the UK. The children were asked if they were bullied by their siblings at age 12 and then were evaluated for tendencies for depression, anxiety and self harm at age 18.
About 53 percent said they were never bullied by their siblings. About 17 percent said their siblings had bullied them only once or twice. About 9 percent said it happened a few times a month, and another 10 percent said it occurred about once a week. About 11 percent said it happened several times a week.
Overall, the researchers found that children who ever reported being bullied by their siblings were about twice as likely to have depression or anxiety, or to have harmed themselves, at age 18.
The results were similar after the researchers adjusted for factors that may influence the results, such as depression, anxiety and self-harm being more common among families experiencing internal conflicts.
“Victims of sibling bullying are twice as likely to develop depression by early adulthood and to report self-harming within the previous year when compared with children not bullied by siblings,” researchers concluded.
The researchers estimate that 13 percent of depression and about 19 percent of self-harm cases may be due to sibling bullying.
Dieter Wolke from the University of Warwick said in another study published in the same issue of the journal that children who are bullied are more likely to have nightmares and night terrors.
There are a lot of things that are difficult to reverse, and the effects of sibling bullying is one of those things. The sibling who is the target of this form of bullying tends to be the child that is quiet and usually stays to themselves. Because of this, they will probably be targets to other children. The bad news is that being bullied at home and at school is nothing anyone wants to experience. Your best bet is to stop it before it starts and take control of the situation before it’s too late. Some parents take comfort in sending their children to therapy to talk things out. It’s okay if you don’t understand why your children do the things they do. A therapist can give you many of the answers you are looking for, and help put an end to issues within the home, such as sibling bullying.
If you don’t know where your family stands from bullying, here’s how to conduct a bullying survey yourself!