“He punched me again!”
“She stole it from my room!”
“He broke it!”
“She told me to get lost!”
Bullying by peers has been acknowledged by experts as destructive and damaging in recent years. But bullying by siblings often is dismissed as normal behavior within the family dynamic, according to a study in the July 2013 issue of Pediatrics.
Being the kid who gets picked on within the family is serious business. Research findings show the outcome can damage a child’s mental health.
Researchers talked to children and youth, or their parents, about various measures of aggression displayed by siblings and peers as part of the National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence. They looked at physical assault with and without a weapon or an injury; stealing behaviors from the child with or without force, breaking siblings’ things on purpose and saying things to make a sibling feel bad or scared or not wanted.
The results showed that sibling aggression in the past year was associated with significantly worse mental health for both children and adolescents. Distress was evident for children and adolescents who experienced both mild and severe forms of sibling aggression.
How can parents know the difference between ordinary sibling rivalry and bullying?
Take a look at the frequency, intent and participants in the interaction, says Theresa LoCoco, MD, of Pediatric Associates in Phoenix. Negative interactions that happen on a daily basis, as opposed to once in awhile, are more likely to edge into bullying. So is activity intended to cause either physical or emotional harm.
“Also, if the older or more powerful sibling is repeatedly the aggressor, I would be concerned about bullying,” says LoCoco, a member of the AAP’s Arizona chapter (AZAAP).
More tips from LoCoco:
- Monitor the aftereffects to those involved. If the behavior is negatively affecting school work or family interactions, or the child seems “down,” it’s time for parents to intervene.
- Gather the kids and talk about appropriate ways to interact with others and what will not be tolerated within the family.
- Model respectful behavior to all family members. Reassess the amount of attention and praise that is given to each child.
- Spend quality time together as a family so kids can build memories and strengthen their relationships with each other.
The study authors concluded that parents, pediatricians and the public should treat sibling aggression as potentially harmful, and not dismiss it as normal, minor or even beneficial.