MH900232446A reader worries about the sibling bullying that goes on in her own home:

I read somewhere that sibling bullying is the worst form of bullying. I have three children ages 3-, 6-, and 15-years-old and when they go at each other they seem at times to really go at each other! How can I make sure that it doesn’t turn into that type of a situation with the two older boys? My 15-year-old knows all the right buttons to push but my 6-year-old isn’t there as much so when feelings are hurt its sometimes hard to manage.
Sibling bullying is so much different than school bullying.


In some ways, sibling bullying can be worse. We can help kids rationalize that when they get bullied at school, the bullies know very little, if anything, about them, and so they shouldn’t take the bullying personally. (Kids being kids, that usually activates their “BS detectors” immediately, making further efforts to be supportive more difficult!) But siblings know everything about each other. They know exactly the “right buttons to push!” Bullying by siblings is very personal. And there are less available avenues of escape from the bully when the bully and victim share a bedroom, or a bathroom, or a floor of a house.

A recent study from Purdue University on sibling rivalry asked adult children about their perceptions of parental favoritism and the effect it has on relationships among siblings. Hayleigh Colombo says the finger points at dad:

Dad’s opinion matters — at least when it comes to predicting sibling relationships.

When adult children perceive that their fathers favor any particular child, there is a higher tendency of sibling tension in those families, according to a recent study conducted by Purdue University researchers that analyzed the relationships between 341 children in 174 families.

The study, which appeared in the July issue of the Journal of Gerontology, Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, found that favoritism by mothers did not as frequently lead to sibling tension.



Still, there are some things that we must all agree on. First, all bullying is wrong and never acceptable. Ever. Second, if you have a child who is bullying his or her sibling, chances are he or she is also bullying someone else outside of your family. Don’t assume their bullying ends when they walk out the door and go to school. Third, simply asking a bully to stop is not enough. There have to be severe consequences for their hurtful and disrespectful behavior. And finally, parents can themselves unknowingly model bullying behavior, by bullying each other, their own children, or others in the community (like a waitress in a restaurant or a secretary in a doctor’s office).

I often tell parents that the two most important “R’s” we teach our kids as they grow up are not reading and [w]riting, but rather, respect and responsibility. Our reader’s 15-year-old is being an irresponsible older sibling by provoking his younger brother. And both boys are being disrespectful towards each other (although I’d still have to put more blame on the older brother, since he should know better by now).

A certain amount of conflict is bound to occur the closer people live to each other. Nevertheless, parents should never accept mean, hurtful, or intimidating comments or actions between siblings. I’ve heard parents justify such behavior by saying: “They fight constantly, but they’re just being typical brothers.” My reply would be: “Only if you let them.”


(Microsoft Images)