In Bullying Experts, Featured Posts, Guest Posts, Health Professionals, Parents

Dr Kate Writes: When does Sibling Rivalry become Sibling Bullying?

sibling rivalry

In her new exclusive article for , Dr Kate Roberts writes about Sibling rivalry and Sibling Bullying and the difference between them.

The new study, published in the journal Pediatrics, found that those who were physically assaulted, had their toys stolen or broken, or endured emotional abuse that made them feel frightened or unwanted by their sibling had higher levels of depression, anger and anxiety than those without these experiences. About one-third of the kids had been targeted by their siblings for physical and verbal abuse and overall, these children showed more mental health symptoms later than those who weren’t subject to bullying.

The study concluded that as far as mental health effects are concerned, the relationship that the victims had with their bullies didn’t seem to matter. The findings showed that sibling bullying had the same association with increased anxiety, depression and trauma as peer aggression.”

Historically the public has had a higher tolerance for fighting and even threatening behaviour among siblings than they do for other social relationships.

“But when does that normal sibling squabbling evolve into Sibling Bullying ?

-continuously fight and confront each other in aggressive ways without intervening,

-if they play favourites and label children as “the smart one” or the “the quiet one,” that may lead to more unhealthy competitiveness between siblings that develops into abuse.

Sibling Rivalry is normal, natural, and common in most families. This constitutes behaviour such as:

  • Competitiveness
  • arguments over an object or personal item
  • feelings of jealousy
  • no imbalance of power
  • presence of random acts of kindness

Whereas, Sibling Bullying involves:

  • Put downs, name calling and/or insults such as: calling someone stupid, ugly, fat or speaking negatively: “you’ll never make the team”
  • Physical actions: hitting, pushing, pulling hair, scratching, kicking)
  • Ganging up on one sibling
  • Refusing access to a room/
  • Stealing items
  • Threats
  • Cyber-bullying

Parents can assess the difference between sibling rivalry and sibling bullying by looking at the following aspects:

  • Do my children ever get along?
  • What happens when I’m not around?
  •  Do my children offer random acts of kindness to one another?

If the answer is yes, then the chance of sibling bullying existing is less likely.

However, if the answer is no, then it is not a normal part of sibling life and it is important that parents take action.

Children require skills to learn how to effectively respond to household rules and what the clear consequences for breaking them are.

Children will also benefit from learning how to express themselves and handle emotions in a more pro-active, pro-social manner. If parents need assistance and support in providing these tools, then seek the support of a mental health professional in the form of family counselling.

Here is a link to Dr Kate’s interview with Fox News about Sibling Rivalry and Sibling Bullying.

Dr Kate Roberts

Dr Kate Roberts

For more than twenty five years Dr. Kate Roberts has helped children and families navigate through the ever evolving world of relationships. As a licensed psychologist, family therapist and couples counselor, and wife and mother of two, Dr. Kate offers a unique and highly qualified perspective in her practice, in the media and in her  Savvy Parenting  blog on Psychology Today. 

 Dr. Kate has done more than sixty interviews on television, newspapers, and online and traditional magazines. Most recently Time Magazine, Parenting magazine, Scholastic Magazine, Parents Magazine, Boston Metro, Working Mother magazine and Disney In addition to all of this Dr. Kate is published in a number of articles in professional journals and writes the bi-weekly parenting column Dr. Kate’s Parent Rap in the Salem News. 

Dr. Kate welcomes questions from reporters and writers and has been interviewed on a wide variety of family and parenting topics, from the Boston bombings, to Columbine shootings, bullying and children addicted gaming

 Dr. Kate completed her undergraduate degree in psychology from Boston University and her doctorate in clinical psychology from University of Rhode Island. She completed her pre and post doctoral training at Brown University and Butler and Bradley Hospitals. 

 Dr. Kate has worked as a consulting psychologist to school districts throughout Rhode Island and Massachusetts. She held a faculty position at the Brown University Medical School, Department of Psychiatry as a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry. Currently Dr. Kate works full time coaching children and families in her private practice outside of Boston and through institutions such as Massachusetts General Hospital.

If you are interested in interviewing Dr. Kate for a news piece, article or blog please contact Dr. Kate Roberts at 978-884-1213. She is also available to write or blog as an expert on appropriate web sites. For more information on Dr. Kate check out her website

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