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Sibling Rivalry Is More Harmful Than You Think

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Posted by on Jun. 18, 2013 at 10:39 AM
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Sibling Rivalry Is More Harmful Than You Think

by Adriana Velez

little girlWe've heard a lot lately about how harmful bullies can be -- online and at school. But what about bullies at home? In a new study, doctors are finding that "sibling aggression" can be just as harmful as bullying at school. Even one act can bring about the same feelings of anxiety and aggression, and can lead to mental health problems later on. And it's all happening right under parents' noses ... more or less.

But don't kids fight all the time anyway? Didn't we all grow up squabbling with our siblings -- and didn't we more or less survive it? How on Earth are you supposed to tell the difference between run-of-the-mill tussles between brothers and sisters and the kind of serious sibling aggression that really hurts?

Amanda Nickerson, director of the Alberti Center for Bullying Abuse Prevention at the University at Buffalo, did not work on the study. But she has some ideas about how to tell ordinary rivalry from actual bullying. "To assess bullying, it is important to assess the intent of the aggression -- was it done to cause harm? -- the repetition of it, and the power imbalance between the perpetrator and the victim."

So there are some key ideas there:

1. Is one child intentionally trying to harm another?

2. Is this harm a regular thing?

3. Is there a power imbalance? In other words, is it an older, bigger sibling picking on a younger, smaller sibling?

This still sounds a lot like regular sibling behavior, but at least it gives us more specific ideas of what to look for. I think there's a difference between just whacking at a little brother so he'll get out of your space and actually twisting his arm behind his back, for example. Or if an older sister makes fun of what her younger sister wears pretty much every day, that's another form of bullying.

If anything, this should help parents to pick their battles. It can get exhausting to referee every single fight your kids ever have. But if you can at least recognize bullying behavior, then maybe you can prioritize what you discipline.

Do you feel like you can tell the difference between harmless sibling rivalry and serious sibling bullying?

by on Jun. 18, 2013 at 10:39 AM
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by on Jun. 18, 2013 at 8:25 PM

Yes, I can tell the difference. There was a period of time where my DD was bullling my DS. taking note of what occurs, how it affets the intended child and the intent of the child that did the action is important. A sibling bulling another is cause for alarm and needs intervention. For me, taking my DD aside and letting her know her dad and I where aware she was intentionally going out of her way to do things that hurt (emotionally and sometimes physically) her little brother and taking my DS aside and letting him know we where aware she was hurting him and we are dealing with it.  Over the course of the next few weeks evertime she bullied him I would take her aside and ask her to expalin why she was doing this to him.  I would explain to her it was important that she think about why she did it and she had to tell me why. Sometimes it took a few minutes and sometimes a few hours for her to explain why. Sometimes the explination was he did something that upset her, sometimes she just didn't know why, she just "felt like it".  Her younger brother has Autism and has done many things that has hurt her and upset her and she overall felt we didn't care because he never got in trouble like she did if she did the same thing.  This let to her feeling resentment towards her brother and she vented by being hostile towards him.  We let her know we understood her feelings and would explain to her about her brothers condition. During that time we played interferance and in situations when My DD would bully her brother we would kee them seperate the best we could and comfort my DS when she bullied him.  It took about 6 months, she finally got to a point where she understood her brother and got over her resentment and anger towards him. I would take her out for one on one time and give her a chance to vent about her brother. We took time to note when he did things nice to her and for her. We made her thank him for those things (when she vented she would use words like always and never and we wanted her to not overlook the nice and kind things he did) We made an effort to not overly sold her for her bulling but also not disregard it either.  We understood that her bulling was not about her being mean or cruel but about her dealing with her frustration and her pain. Now it has been about a year later and now when he does the same things he used to do, I go to comfort her and she says no need, she understands now and she even goes out of her way to help him.  Bulling is very harmful to both children, unaddressed ro addressed in the wrong way damages both children.  The child doing the bulling needs help to deal with whatever is the root of what is making  them bully the other child, unaddressed that anger and pain will continue to grow and negativley affect him/her, the child getting bullied needs to support and intervention to cease the bulling or they too will be negatively affeted well into adulthood.  If you as the parent are not aware of what is the root, if the child is unable to verbalize why he or she is bulling, getting intervention from a therapist is a good idea. The therapist will be a neutral person that is not on anyones side and not there to stop yourchild from bulling but to get to the root of why (which will stop the bulling if the why is addressed), also getting therapy for the bullied child to help them process and deal with what the other chidl is doing to them helps. My DS was already in therapy to deal with his social issues related to his Autism and so many sessions where spent on dealing with things his siser had done. 

If possible take the time to have one-on-one time with each child. Both parents shoud do this on a regular basis. This will reduce sibling rivalry and build a bond between child and parent. During this time listen to your child and do not 'parent" just listen and do your best to see where your hild is coming from.  When it comes time for you to communicate with your child on important issues, you will have a solid foundation.

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