When you’re a parent, you might think of bullying that affects your children outside of the home and at school, but it can affect them within your home as well in the form of sibling bullying. Sometimes siblings fight, and that’s normal, but what if it goes beyond normal?
Relational bullying is common among boys and girls, so do you know that there is an issue, and what can you do as a parent?
When Is Fighting Bullying?
Essentially all brothers and sisters fight, but as a parent, you have to wonder when it becomes a larger issue and when it can be characterized as bullying.
Some of the signs that fighting could be more and could be an issue related to bullying include:
- The fighting seems very intense or is trending upward in intensity
- There are certain patterns that you can identify with the fighting—for example, every day one child is taunting the other about the same thing
- One sibling may have more power, physically or maybe mentally than the other
- There isn’t a sense of friendliness or making up after a fight ends
- One sibling doesn’t seem to be empathetic towards the other
Aggressive behavior and sibling bullying don’t always have to be related to physical injuries and physical harm.
It can also include what’s called property victimization. This means that one sibling uses force to take something away from another sibling or breaking something that the other child loves and values.
Psychological aggression among siblings can include emotional pain, such as saying unkind things or not wanting to spend time with a sibling.
The perpetrators of bullying are most likely to be boys and firstborn children.
What can happen also is that a bullied child can eventually become a bully too, either within the home or at school or elsewhere?
Sometimes when a child is bullying another one, it can mean the bully is experiencing a problem themselves. Bullying may be something that, as a parent, you want to look at from the perspective of the bullied child but also the child doing the bullying.
What Are the Effects of Sibling Bullying?
There can be far-reaching effects of sibling bullying, similar to what’s seen when bullying occurs outside of the home.
For example, sibling aggression can impact the levels of emotional stress a child feels and can also impact a child’s mental health.
Research shows that siblings who experience aggression from another sibling even one time can have mental health distress for up to a year.
There can be a number of short-term effects, as well. For example, short-term effects of sibling bullying may include problems with sleeping, problems at school or with doing homework, bed-wetting or general changes in personality.
What Can Parents Do?
As a parent, what can you do? Some of the things you might enact if there is bullying going on in your house include:
- Make sure you are holding the bully responsible for their own actions and accountable. Sometimes as parents, we may brush it off as typical behavior or overlook it more than we should, and it can then grow. You should teach the child who’s bullying their sibling how far-reaching the effects can be and they should take responsibility by repeating back what they did and then understanding there are consequences.
- Work toward alleviating jealously in the family, which is a frequent cause of sibling and relational bullying. Work on pointing out all of your kids’ good characteristics equally and being fair and equal in how you treat everyone.
- Model respect on your end. Show your kids how to treat people with kindness and respect in your friendships and other relationships that your children can see.
- One area where you can really work with your kids to prevent bullying and help them to be strong people overall is to equip them with problem-solving skills. Kids don’t know how to problem solve inherently—it’s something they have to be taught. You can do this by encouraging your kids to work together to solve issues rather than working against one another.
- Watch your children for potential unkind behaviors and step in early on. Don’t wait until the situation becomes worse.
If you take steps to proactively deal with sibling bullying, and you can’t seem to make headway, and the problem remains or even gets worse, it may be wise to consider therapy. A professional therapist may be able to uncover underlying issues in your children and work to resolve those.