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 should be a place where a child can feel safe, but what if your bully lives right in the room next to your own?
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. This 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 lookout for:
- Foul insults
- Physical aggression
- Ganging up (common when more than two 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,” offers little sanctuary to a child how is routinely demoralised. Words can do a lot of damage to a child, especially when it comes from someone within their immediate family.
Harsh insults can devastate 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. They may not know how to sit down and discuss the things that are bothering them. Instead, they lash out at their siblings. These physical aggressions can sometimes amount to bullying. Common physical aggressions that may be bullying include:
- Hair pulling
Although siblings are expected to disagree and have arguments, physical aggression should not be tolerated under any circumstances.
3 – Damage and Destruction
It is not abnormal for children to occasionally have tantrums that result in damage, but there is a line that should not be crossed. Causing damage to, or completely destroying another sibling’s favourite item, can be particularly mean and upsetting to the victim. Sometimes pets are also targeted as a way to hurt their sibling. Cruelty to animals should always be a major warning sign to any parent that their child is not on the right path in terms of emotional development.
4 – The “Gang Up”
Siblings can gang up on each other when there are three or more. The sibling who is left out can become very lonely and may take a turn for the worse. This can lead to depression, anxiety and other mood disorders.
There are a few causes of sibling bullying that some parents should be aware of.
1 – Feeling Unwanted
Some children feel unwanted by their parents, and this can sometimes cause sibling bullying to occur.
2 – Frustration
Not all children are lucky enough to live in a safe neighbourhood, have food to eat and clothes to wear. A child living in disadvantaged conditions may be more prone to becoming frustrated and taking out their frustration on their siblings. While this is understandable it does not make it acceptable.
3 – Playing the Parent
In some families the oldest child may have to to play the parent. When children are forced to play the parent, they do everything the parent is supposed to do: cook, clean, help younger children with their homework, bathe their younger siblings, get their siblings ready for school, and so on. A child who plays the parent role may not have a chance to enjoy their childhood because they are forced to take on a lot of responsibility too early in life. This much responsibility can cause a child to become depressed, have anxiety, and lose sight of their goals.
4 – Jealousy
Jealousy is common among siblings, but it can lead to a serious situation. 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.
7 Ways to Stop Sibling Bullying at Your home
1 – Stop Aggressive Behaviour
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 – Hold 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 from the home
Removing jealousy within the home is difficult because a lot of parents are not sure what triggers it. In this situation, the best thing to do is to try to diffuse the jealousy within the home. Often the most effective approach is to have a talk with your child and find out what’s bothering them.
4 – Teach and Learn
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. This is 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.
5 – Empathy
One way you could get the message across to your child that bullying is wrong is to instil empathy in them. Teach your child about bullying and this may help them to imagine what it feels like to be a victim.
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.
7 – Prevention
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.
A positive thought is that 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.
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. Dealing with the issue early on can help to prevent any escalation, and even save the sibling dynamic from turning 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, which surveyed 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 the children. They 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 per cent said their siblings had never bullied them. About 17 per cent said their siblings had bullied them only once or twice. About 9 per cent said it happened a few times a month, and another 10 per cent said it occurred about once a week. About 11 per cent said it happened several times a week.
Overall, the researchers found that children who 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 researchers concluded:
“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.”
The researchers estimated that 13 per cent of depression and about 19 per cent of self-harm might be due to sibling bullying.
Dieter Wolke from the University of Warwick said, in another study published in the same journal, that children who are bullied are more likely to have nightmares and night terrors.
The victims of sibling bullying often fit a profile of quiet and unassuming characteristics. Because of this, they will probably be targets to other children. 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. 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!