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Published on June 17, 2014

More than Rivalry: When your brother (or sister) is a bully

Sibling bullying is more common than most people think. Dr. Bhawani Ballamudi shares how to figure out if sibling bullying is a problem at home and what you can do about it.

Research shows that sibling bullying is one of the most damaging types of bullying. The intentional acts of hurting another child through name-calling, negative remarks and repeated put-downs by a sibling can be psychologically damaging and effects can last well into adulthood. Aside from the insults, sibling bullying can also be physically brutal, including slapping, pinching, pushing, hitting, hair-pulling, scratching and kicking, among other physical assaults.

Unfortunately, sibling bullying is sometimes thought of as a normal part of growing up. Research is starting to show that this once overlooked phenomenon is a common occurrence. Researchers from Clemson University found that 75% of participants reported being bullied by a sibling. Alternately, 85% reported they bullied a sibling.

These situations are difficult for everyone. Parents are often stuck in the middle of their children. If bullying behaviors aren’t rectified, the long-term sibling relationship can be negatively affected. Additionally, it can bear a psychological toll on all of the children involved. One study found that sibling aggression could be linked to poor mental health and is associated with an increase in depression, anxiety and anger management issues.

So, how can you tell if sibling bullying is happening at your house? Check to see if any of the following scenarios happen at home:

  1. I know you are, but what am I? Are your children repeatedly tearing each other apart with words? Are more negative things flying out of their mouths than positives?
  2. Sticks and stones… Do your children lash out at one another physically? Is one usually crying because of what another child has done? Do they leave physical marks after an altercation?
  3. What’s mine is mine and what’s your is mine too! Do the other child’s belongings mysteriously go missing or do you find them broken but no one takes the blame?
  4. Two is company and three is a crowd… Do two or more of  your children try to exclude the other? Do they work together to make the third child feel like an outcast? Do they play unkind pranks and tricks on the other sibling like locking him in the bathroom or running off without him?

How many of these scenarios happen at your house? If you answered “yes” to more of the questions than you answered “no,” you may have a case of sibling bullying.

So, what can you do? First, intervene and take action. Set a time to discuss your expectations and rules independently with each child and then together as a group. Set a stern no tolerance policy with clear rules and implement consequences for bullying behavior. Also create a way for the child who is being bullied can speak with you privately about what is happening. If these suggestions don’t help, you should look into counseling sessions with a skilled professional.

It’s important to remember that it is our job as parents to protect our children, even in our own home. Sibling aggression should not be viewed as normal. If siblings fight and hit each other it is no different than if a friend or classmate did the same. How would you react if another child hit your son or daughter? Sibling aggression is the same.

If you are concerned that your family is experiencing sibling bullying and want help addressing the issue, talk with your family physician or pediatrician. You can also contact Dean Clinic’s Psychology Department. Many of our Psychologists focus on Child Psychology and will provide you and your child with tools to cope with any issues that may be leading to aggressive behavior.

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