Is Sibling Bullying Damaging?

According to a new study from the University of New Hampshire’s Crimes Against Children Research Center, sibling bullying is not something to be shrugged off. More aggressive than simple rivalry, it is said to have possible negative impacts for both the victim and bully.

With the overuse of the word “bully” can we really call this sibling bullying? It should be called what it is …sibling rivalry doing what they do … fight!

How can parents keep the sibling peace?

All siblings fight. It’s part of how kids learn to resolve conflict. Parents expect it, shrug it off, screech at the sound of their kids fighting and tell their kids that, one day, they will be best friends.

Yet, aggressive behavior between siblings can have an impact on kids’ mental health according to the referenced study published in the July issue of the medical journal Pediatrics.

The authors of the study say that victimization between siblings could be just as harmful as peer bullying.

What can parents do?

Teaching kids conflict skills when they're young is a good way to start. Kids need to be taught about the effects of their behavior in firm but kind ways. Making them feel bad about their actions is not the route to take. Responding in a loving and teaching way allows kids to deal with their own feelings and how to interpret the feelings of others.

As children grow older, parents can talk with kids during calm moments about ways to resolve conflicts, including walking away and compromising.

It is not a good idea for parents to offer their own perception of who is right or wrong and lecture and punish the kids. Many expect more from the older child and feel they need to rescue the younger one. The reality is, this sets up a victim mentality. The older child feels bad about who they are and the younger child ends up feeling like they are wrong.

Parents should intervene if a child loses control or gets physical. By removing the child somewhere they cannot harm themselves allows them to calm down. It’s also a great idea to teach kids self-calming strategies.

Watch for intentional and repetitive victimization between siblings. While conflict is developmentally appropriate, an imbalance of power in the relationship can be harmful.
While many siblings have aggressive relationships and feel that it is a fair fight, the difference in ages can set the stage for an imbalance of power.

Minimize conditions that break down sibling relationships that can cause long-lasting resentment. While some sibling rivalry is unavoidable, parents can discourage sibling disharmony by giving careful attention to how their household environment is structured. Here are some parenting tips to help you in minimize jealousy and increase harmony amongst your kids:

  • Do not use negative labels. Family nicknames like Shorty, Clumsy, or Klutz can cause unfair family ribbings hurt kids and can cause sibling resentment.

  • Take a reality check. Don’t beat yourself up. Reflect on how you treat your kids. Do you treat your kids fairly? Does each kid feel like your favorite? Do you avoid comparing your kids in front of others? Do you nurture each child for his/her special talents? Is there one thing you might do to change your behavior or interactions with your children to minimize their feelings of jealousy or rivalry?

  • Don’t compare behaviors, attitudes or schoolwork. Never compare or praise one kid’s behavior over another’s. It can create long-lasting strains. Never ask “Why can’t you be more like your brother? or “Why aren’t you neat like your sister? Kids can interpret such comparisons as: “You think he’s better than me” or “You love him more.” It unfairly puts pressure on the sibling you praised and devalues your other child.

  • Recognize and nurture a unique strength for each sibling. Every kid deserves to hear what makes them unique. It instills self-esteem and sets them apart from their siblings. Ideally, Nurture a different strength for each sibling and validate it so each child can be acknowledged for their strength.

  • Be open. Listen to both sides. Listening fairly your kids is a powerful way to let them know that you respect each child’s thoughts and want to hear all sides. “Thanks for sharing. Now I want to hear your sister’s side. Build a fair relationship with each sibling so that he/ or she knows you value each their opinions and that you’re listening fairly.

  • Spend alone time with each child. Take the opportunity to seize those individual moments as they arise: Your sister’s asleep. Let’s just you and I go read books together. Make special alone times for you and each of your children.

  • Reinforce good behavior. The easiest way to boost sibling harmony: catch them supporting each other. This may not happen often but when it does tell them you appreciate their efforts. They’re more likely to repeat the behaviors because you’ve praised them.