Sibling bullies are just as harmful as schoolyard bullies

The taunting and teasing still haunt me some days. I can hear my older brother’s mean words and feel the arm punches he inflicted when no one was watching. We fought like cats and dogs. My parents just took it as sibling rivalry. But today, new studies indicate that bullying by siblings can have a greater impact than previously thought.

As part of the National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence, researchers turned their attention to kids with aggressive siblings and learned a great deal about the impact these family members can have on children. According to one of the researchers, Corinna Jenkins Tucker, Ph.D., CFLE, at University of New Hampshire in Durham, the most significant discoveries in the survey were:

  • Children age 9 and younger experienced more distress and had worse mental health than older children.
  • 32 percent of children surveyed reported one type of sibling victimization in the past year.

Antibullying campaigns have long been the subject of media attention and classroom discussions, but researchers noted that the mental health impact on victims was the same whether the bullying came from a peer or a sibling. The effects were evident in victims’ emotional distress, whether the bully was physically abusive or simply taunting with words.

Therese Sirles, M.S., R.N., CPN, director of the Children’s Hospital Foundation Office of Child Advocacy of Norton Children’s Hospital, gives these suggestions to help parents effectively deal with bullying behavior at home:

1. Be accountable and accept that your child is responsible for the bullying. Too often, parents are in denial and feel that their child couldn’t possibly be a bully.
2. Don’t trivialize bullying behavior as normal or minor.
3. Help your children understand what bullying is and that it is hurtful. Tell them bullying is not acceptable behavior within or outside your home.
4. Establish clear and firm rules and define consequences for bullying behavior. Be consistent with punishments if your child exhibits harmful behavior toward others.
5. Encourage your children’s good behavior, teaching empathy and compassion for others that starts in the home.
6. Be the adult. Children model what they see, so demonstrate good behavior and positive social interactions.


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