When does sibling rivalry become bullying?

A new study from the University of New Hampshire suggests that sibling rivalry can escalate into bullying and can be linked to worse mental health outcomes than being bullied by unrelated kids.

Here are the details of the study from Time Healthland:

“The new study, published in the journal Pediatrics, involved thousands of children and adolescents throughout the U.S. and found that those who were physically assaulted, had their toys stolen or broken, or endured emotional abuse that made them feel frightened or unwanted by their sibling had higher levels of depression, anger and anxiety than those without these experiences. About one-third of the kids had been targeted by their siblings for physical and verbal abuse and overall, these children showed more mental health symptoms later than those who weren’t subject to bullying.”

“In order to study any differences between the effects of sibling bullying and those of being threatened by an unrelated bully, the researchers compared the effects of aggressive behaviors such as physical violence, breaking or taking toys or belongings, and abuse such as name-calling or taunting, originating from siblings to those coming from children’s unrelated peers. They concluded that as far as mental health effects are concerned, the relationship that the victims had with their bullies didn’t seem to matter. The findings showed that sibling bullying had the same association with increased anxiety, depression and trauma as peer aggression.”

“That’s an eye-opening result since most parents — not to mention the public — have a higher tolerance for fighting and even threatening behavior among siblings than they do for other social relationships. “If siblings hit each other, there’s a much different reaction than if that happened between peers,” said the study’s lead author Corinna Jenkins Tucker, an associate professor of family studies at UNH, in a statement. “It’s often dismissed, seen as something that’s normal or harmless. Some parents even think it’s beneficial, as good training for dealing with conflict and aggression in other relationships.”…

“But when does that normal squabbling evolve into something more? Parents may unknowingly play a role in escalating some sibling fighting into abuse, John V. Caffaro, a clinical psychologist and the author of “Sibling Abuse Trauma,” told the New York Times. If parents allow children to continuously fight and confront each other in aggressive ways without intervening, or if they play favorites and label children as “the smart one” or the “the quiet one,” that may lead to more unhealthy competitiveness between siblings that develops into abuse. Caffaro said that since violence between siblings is one of the most common types of familial violence, so aggression with the intent to physical hurt or humiliate a brother or sister should be taken seriously, and quashed.”

For years my big brother taunted me about being flat chested and having very large hair that he called my “afro.” I do have some seriously big hair but it really did give me a complex when I was younger because of the constant repetition. I couldn’t get away from him or the taunts. I don’t think I was permanently damaged but it made me feel crappy in those areas. I did take his criticisms to heart.

At this point I see my kids trying to irritate each other more so than bullying – maybe because our oldest is a girl. They will occasionally get physical with one another but we do always step in, make them apologize and separate them.

Did you have a sibling that taunted you mercilessly? How did affect you? Did you take it to heart? Did you take the criticism with you when you left home?

What about your own kids? What do they fight about? Do you see one being aggressive physically or with taunts to another? Do you think the sex of the child matters – are older boys more likely to taunt or be mean to younger siblings or can the older girls be just as mean and we’re just not there yet?

28 comments Add your comment

beth

June 17th, 2013
11:51 pm

I admitt that I struggle with this. I don’t know if it crosses into bullying or not but it I know hurts me as a mom to see how derogatory my 8 year old daughter can be to her 5.5 year old brother. My daughter is a total tomboy, very athletic, and very competitive. My 5.5 year old son plays a couple of sports but is clearly not as athletically inclined or as naturally aggressive/confrontatational as his sister. What bothers me the most isn’t so much the physical confrontatons, but more how she can’t seem to acknowlege that her brother does anything good or right. Is that normal? I think maybe being the first born, we gave her too much praise and now she can’t stand it when her brother does anything well. We consistantly talk to her about the importance of protecting not only our family bond, but also protecting all younger and more vulerable kids and how she has the opportunity to be the leader in that area. Our family mantra is “treat others how you want to be treated” and that statement hangs prominately in our family room. I’m hoping she is listening. Physically, she is bigger and stronger and can pin him to the ground in 2 seconds. Depending on his level of anger, I will either break them up and make them say they are sorry and hug but if he is not fuming (more playful), I might encourage him to think of a way to wrestle her down or at least get out from under her.

I should say that she and her brother are not at each other’s throat’s all day long or anything like that. There are many many times they play quite well together for HOURS without any issues or incidents. But then there are things like he got a new bed for Christmas and she has been sleeping in his bed with him since Christmas day. Super sweet… right? I can choose to think of that as sweet or I can choose to think of it as jealousy since she did not get a new bed. I don’t know… a little bit of both maybe? She very often wants to read him his bed time story… which can be very sweet. But when she does this, she then gets me all to herself for her bedtime story and can be very insistant me not coming upstairs until she has read him to sleep. Manipulation??? I take opinions!

With her friends, she can be bossy but doesn’t put everything they do down like she does to her brother. I always tell her she doesn’t have to like everyone but she does have to be kind. At the same time, I’ve also been trying to heed the “lean in” advice to not force her into the nice sweet little girl box and allow her to be a leader. In little boy world, bossy boys are leaders. In little girl world, bossy girls are just considered mean. Her teacher said she is more of a leader at school and very often will be the first to loan a pencil or help to a student who needs it. But if you’re not doing something right, she will tell you that too. I’m struggling trying to figure out normal behavior and truly inappropriate behavior and how to correct it. I just wish she was nicer to her little brother! Although, he seems not to get his feeling hurt as easily as she does, I worry that his long term self confidence will be affected. But maybe I’m over thinking all of this. Who knows…. I think I forgot to pick up my “How to Do This” manual when I brought them home from the hospital.

Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

June 18th, 2013
1:17 am

Beth — I think you are right to be concerned — some of the reactions seem pretty extreme from your daughter. I know someone whose daughter really resents the son being born and they are really experiencing a problem because of it and are actually seeking professional help.(Her resentment is toward the mother not the brother.) I hope that our community can give you some great insight and advice from their experience.

Guys please be kind. Beth has really shared with us and I hope we can help her.

A reader

June 18th, 2013
6:33 am

The so called “abuse” that I suffered from my older siblings prepared me for the world. When I was in middle school a couple of girls started to harass me. I was able to ignore it and even laugh it off because they had nothing compared to my siblings. Note that I love my siblings and I am close to them. While I hated it at the time I do not think they ever bullied me.

I think there is a BIG difference between normal sibling rivalry and aggression versus true abuse by a sociopath or psychopath, family member or not. I think society has started to lump normal behavior into the the “bullying” bucket when it does not belong there.

And beth, your kids sound normal. Don’t try to read bad things into everything your daughter does.

fred

June 18th, 2013
7:03 am

I think that as a whole, we start to call many interactions between people, young or old, bullying. As a teacher, I have heard many things called bullying that I would not consider bullying. I do not know where the line is between normal adolescent teasing and bullying.

FCM

June 18th, 2013
7:16 am

@ Beth..when he got the bed did y’all make a big deal about it? I see the bed as jealousy. Also at this point it has become habit. He had something new and she wanted to share in it. Since nobody stopped it, it has become habit. Maybe if you got her new sheets or bedspread that she picked out she would feel her bed was “special” too. I certainly had that issue when my younger got a new bed (from a twin to a full and my older one had a full already–older announced she needed a queen b/c she was older. I said UH NO).

Reading to him before bed…super sweet. That is some really good stuff.

Most of what you said does sound normal to an extent. However, they need to learn better ways of conflict resolution NOW. I was like that with my younger brother, but those “boys” grow up. My mother figured we would “grow out of it” and only if we were on her nerves did she intervene. Flash forward to our teen years…My back was badly bruised (my boyfriend’s mother saw it and was alarmed)…I get called to the school office and asked to show my back (this was 1987). The school was sure my parents were abusing me…No my brother and I had gotten into it he swung at me I turned to my back b/c I learned a long time ago it could take it. He was 14 I was 17 and yes we were WAY TO OLD to be in this “habit”. Long story short my parents (not DFACS) were called and my brother never touched me again. To this day I do not believe he knew he was hurting me…and NO he does not abuse his spouse. He is one of the first to tell the neices and nephews (he has no kids yet) how to resolve conflict with words. He is actually a great man…and you would never know that at one time he and I were fighters.

Point is Beth, you want to help them resolve before it gets where it did with me.

With mine, I jump in when I see it going from “arguing” to “physical”. Learning you need to step away a minute can be a good skill. If physical altercation occurs then the consequences are harsh (have fun sitting in your room by yourself with no electronic company for a period of time…depends on the crime). I have found with mine that they now do go in a room and shut the door…so I am trying to get the one who continues to persue to know to back off.

Good luck.

lakerat

June 18th, 2013
8:02 am

My kids (2 boys) are spaced out (age wise) just like Beth’s children – and her description sounds exactly like how mine behaved all through growing up – they are now 27 and 25, still doing the sibling rivalry thing – it, IMHO, is just part of life.

Is it bullying? In today’s PC world, probably, yet, again, it is part of life and growing up and learning to deal with whatever situation life hands you.

HB

June 18th, 2013
8:13 am

Beth, she probably is manipulating bedtime to get you to herself, but it may not be a big deal. Ask your son what he wants. If he’s happy to be read to sleep by her, let it go. If he wants you to tuck him in, but she’s bullying him into doing it her way, then stand up for him. Maybe talk less about protecting and leading too — you’re giving her a role of authority and she’s accepting it. She needs to know you are the authority over your kids — it’s not a chain of command where you are in charge of her and she’s in charge of him. I understand worrying about teaching girls to be submissive, but there’s a difference between bossiness and leadership. Good leaders earn the respect of others. She may have done that with her friends, but it sounds like she’s bullying her brother into submission because she thinks she has a right to.

K's Mom

June 18th, 2013
8:26 am

I am fortunate because at 3yo and 13 months old, my kids are still getting along really well. The thing that I have done consistently is have one on one time with my 3yo since my younger son was born. I know they are going to fight at some point, but we have not had too much jealousy yet. Beth, if your daughter is manipulating to get alone time with you, are setting up times outside of bed time to spend one on one time with your daughter? Even just 10 minutes a day and a one hour block each week, may help with that.

I have know of two cases of true sibling bullying. I agree with those who think bullying has become a catch all phrase and I believe true bullying is getting pushed under the rug because now everyone’s precious snowflake is bullied if someone simply does not enjoy their company. We have got to give normal childhoods back to our kids and that means letting them learn that they will not be friends with everyone.

Jaynie

June 18th, 2013
8:37 am

My brother went beyond annoying to being an absolute jerk when we were teenageers. However, because he was a boy, my parents encouraged his agressiveness. We are defintely not close and never will be. I think this can certainly go into bullying, but a lot of it depends on how the parents handle the normal sibling rivalry when kids are young.

beth

June 18th, 2013
8:43 am

@FCM – the bed he got was a gift from Santa. At that time, he has a broken (but usable) toddler bed and was choosing to sleep in his sisters Full bed. For Christmas, we took down the toddler bed in the middle of the night and stayed up until the wee hours of the morning putting together a new loft bed with a sliding board. Christmas morning, they came down stairs, opened gifts, and somewhere around noon decided to go up to put something away in his room and discovered the bed. It really was the best reaction ever! But she was not left out that year. Her big gift was Horseback Riding Lessons.

Also, we just moved to this house a little over a year ago so they both got new rooms. Since she already had her “big kid” bedroom furniture, we redid her whole room… new curtains, new bedspread, new sheets etc all just a few months prior to Christmas….So not much to be jealous of. But still, when he got the new bed, she stopped sleeping in her own room. He is happy to have her, and maybe I’m being too critical to question her motives (which by the way I never say anything to her). I just wish she would keep her negative comments to herself. According to her, everything he writes, draws, colors, likes, thinks, tries etc is wrong or not done well. For whatever reason, she can not seem to allow him a “win” or a “job well done”. If he wins a race or competition, it’s only because the other kid was younger, or had flip flops on, or wasn’t feeling well or some other reason. Just this morning, he was the first one to wake up (which never happens – usually her) and she went on and on about how it was only because he didn’t have the dog on top of him and this reason and that reason etc etc etc. Even who wakes up first is a competition. And I’ve notcied that she won’t stand up for him in a crowd either which really worries me. But once she was being bullied to the point of tears by a neighborhood boy and my son screamed and yelled at this older boy (age 9) and practically had to be pulled off of the boy. He was truly upset that this boy made his sister cry. She would never do the same for him.

On a good note, she is excited for him to start kindergarten in the fall so she can walk him to his classroom. She did that when they were at the same preschool together and recieved tons of praise for it. The teachers all thought it was so sweet. Makes me confused. Thanks for advice! I will share with my husband tonight.

Grasshopper

June 18th, 2013
9:34 am

When does sibling rivalry become bullying?

When the parents stop doing their job and allow it too. That was easy!

FCM

June 18th, 2013
9:59 am

@ Beth “he has a broken (but usable) toddler bed and was choosing to sleep in his sisters Full bed.” Then yeah, they got in the habit of sharing a bed. Mine shared a room for a several years. The both have their own rooms now. The younger one likes to sleep in her room alone. The older one is likely to be on myfloor, her sister’s bed, my bed, or even down on the couch by the dog in the morning. Of course she is the one asking for the Queen Bed.

FCM

June 18th, 2013
10:06 am

@ Beth…one other thought. You said you want your daughter to be an empowered woman. A leader. What is allowing her to boss her brother around or him not getting praise from his sister (who I think he adores if he stood up for her) teaching HIM?

Ally

June 18th, 2013
10:54 am

I’m glad this topic is finally being brought to light because it has affected my relationship with my sister to the point where we don’t have one. I am the younger one (2 years, but 1 grade behind when we were in school). She was always putting me down and pushing me away (normal stuff), but it got to the point where it was overboard and she NEVER said or did anything nice to me and used me as a punching bag. Unfortunately she is my mother’s golden child, so I got blamed for most of it. My father never got involved.

When I was 13, I made the conscious decision to ignore her and live my own life (I used to want to be with her and be her friend before that), which was something that really helped me cope. I thought we would grow up after college and moving out on our own, but we are now in our 40’s and she is still as nasty to me as ever. She is just as mean to our mom (she still fights with her, calls her names, is rude to her, and makes our 70-something yo mom cry), so it seems to be a family issue. She is very nice to everyone else, so my husband likes her and thinks I’m being sensitive. The last time we visited her (2.5 years ago), I made a point to say as little as possible to rule out me as a source of the problem, and she still continued to belittle me, be rude to me, order me around, etc. If it were up to me, I’d never see her again, but my kids like their cousins, so it’s a hard decision.

In my opinion, if my parents had demanded that she was less mean when we were younger, I think she would have gotten into better habits/behavior as an adult. But she was allowed to be nasty then and now she’s out of control.

As for my kids, I also have 2 girls and they are mostly nice to each other. The older one can be purposefully mean to the younger one on occasion (she is a kind person in general), and I don’t tolerate it well. My message to them is always “you can disagree with each other, but you must be kind and respectful to each other”. I hope it works. Overall, they do seem to get along well, even though they have very different interests and personalities. They argue about things and play-fight, yet they still laugh together and find things to do that they agree on.

In general, I hate it when people say “it’s just a normal part of growing up”, when they have no idea what is actually going on. Yes, there are some sibling rivalries that are beneficial, but I think parents need to closely watch their kids’ actions and try to treat them objectively and not have “favorites”. If things start getting out of control, GET INVOLVED!

Mayhem

June 18th, 2013
10:56 am

My brother and I fought like cats & dogs while growing up. NOW, we are extremely close. We even planned having our kids about the same time, so they could all grow up together.

We are the best of friends, and I talk to him almost daily. He lives very close, and I see him often. Our family is very tight!

Ally

June 18th, 2013
11:03 am

One more thing that may apply to Beth… We have a neighbor who has an 8yo girl and a 6yo boy. In public the 2 get along, but I’ve heard from the grandparents that they fight like cats and dogs at home. The girl is a “leader” (the parents version), so they don’t get involved much. At school, a large group of girls don’t like the girl (I have one the same age) and call her mean because she bosses everyone around. Admittedly, there is a smaller group of girls who follow her around and do whatever she says because they are meeker (not sure if that’s the right word), so some think she is “popular” (to me, she seems less of a friend and more of a bully). I don’t see a problem with leadership qualities in girls, but there is a fine line between being a leader and being pushy. I’ve always taught my girls that ordering people around is NOT the same as being a leader. And it’s never too early to teach them to stand up for themselves and they don’t have to do what another kid tells them.

HB

June 18th, 2013
11:16 am

There’s a big difference between bullying and normal sibling rivalry. I think siblings can argue constantly and just generally not get along without there being much, if any, true bullying. If one is constantly being mean or criticizing another, though, like Beth and Ally describe, that is bullying (or emotional abuse) and can really do a lot of harm to both children — it must be stopped. There is little that is more hurtful than never being able to do anything right and constantly being treated in a demeaning way.

catlady

June 18th, 2013
11:56 am

Well, I did not put up with any aggressive child to child behavior–verbal or physical. I can’t imagine any,parent putting up with it! My kids disagreed at times, but there was no power given or taken from one to the other.

I was an only child. I always thought that “if only I had a sibling…” Maybe that colors my thinking on this. But NO bullying! I preached that we were in this together., and that one person you can count on is your sister or brother.

Maybe it happens more with kids closer in age? Mine were 4 and 5 years apart. I tried to steer them into different interests, although they all had love of things musical. I know there was some healthy competition, and I have no problem with that. The youngest, especially, wanted to surpass her siblings in grades, and did so by pushing herself very hard.

I am appalled at the cruelty and viciousness I see in some families. And I have seen some parents encourage it! Some even seem to bait the children to acts of retaliation. Sick!

catlady

June 18th, 2013
12:13 pm

(I always read the other comments after i make my first one) Beth, my take on it as a mother, grandmother, and, most especially a teacher for 4 decades is: yes, you SHOULD be consulting a professional. For both of them.

Parent

June 18th, 2013
12:30 pm

Hey, Theresa, why don’t you do a column on how parents can keep their kids from being stolen along with the car? It seems like it is a subject that needs to be explained. Special attention to turning off the ignition and taking the keys.

Mother of 2

June 18th, 2013
12:31 pm

I had a sister 2 years older than me who was certainly not very nice. We get along fine as adults, but I would not describe her as a kind person. I see the way she handles her kids and their friends and she definitely has a different perspective than I do when it comes to helping people. Some people simply have more aggressive natures, and see how to manipulate situations to their benefit. She’s not a terrible person or a bulky. She’s actually a lot of fun and can be very entertaining.

Beth’s daughter may have a more aggressive nature, and be a bit manipulative. I’m sure she can be mean at times as well. But Beth’s son may wind up becoming a very empathetic person because of his sister. I think that sibling rivalry can easily become bullying, but it truly depends on the kids’ reaction to specific behavior. If Beth’s son feels loved and appreciated for who he is in their family, he’ll be just fine. Beth’s daughter will learn over time what behavior is acceptable in her family. It sounds like Beth is dealing with this delicate issue very well.

I’ve found my pediatrician and pediatric nurse practioner to be helpful when dealing with personal issues affecting the family.

real life

June 18th, 2013
2:34 pm

The term “bullying” is very much overused today. There is a big difference between normal sibling rivalry, teasing and what the average person considers bullying. One sibling can bully another and observant parents will notice when that line is crossed. Many siblings never cross that line. Today, however, so many things are called bullying that it is hard to distinguish when it actually occurs. For instance I was recently accused of being a bully when I asked a parent to have her child stop kicking the back of my seat on a plane. She ignored me several times and laughed with her child at me. And called me a bully when I asked the flight attendant to step in. I never raised my voice and used please and thank you each time I made the request.

I also note the number of adults talking about problems they still have with their adult siblings. One of my sisters and I had the same problem. We are not good friends now but it was an eye opening experience to discover that we had the exact same view of each other. We both thought the other was aggressive, selfish, critical and so forth. We let childhood views of each other continue on to adulthood without seeing the changes and maturity that refined and changed the other. Ask your sibling in a frank discussion you might be surprised. And our lack of good friendship does not stem from childhood but from other issues that raised their ugly heads. I am still glad we really spoke about how we saw each other. Made me take a good hard look at myself. Most of these problems are not as one-sided as people seem to think.

FCM

June 18th, 2013
2:43 pm

@ real life…I was discussing something with my brother. He said something about well when we were kids you ___________________. (Nothing overly tramatic but apparently it still bugged him). I said um, well I think I apologized for that the last time you brought that up. He said you did. So then I said well I am 40 years old and I was what 8-10…It’s been 30 years is there a statute of limitations on the events? His wife laughed and said FCM has a point. It has been a few more years and the subject no longer comes up.

beth

June 18th, 2013
3:10 pm

@FCM – I don’t “allow” her to boss her brother around or bully him. I never even remotely suggested that all of this is happening and I am doing absolutely nothing about it. That is not the case.

I guess what I did not explain well enough is that my daughter, while sometimes critical, can be amazingly kind and generous and makes cards for her friends just to say thank you for being my friend. She saves her own money to buy gifts for less fortunate kids every Christmas. I could go on and on about what an amazing person she is…. exept for this one area with her brother. I know that she loves him and, just last week, she spent her own birthday money to buy him a $15 Skylander Giant (his favorite toy) without any prodding from me. She does nice stuff like that all the time, but can be a bit manipulative and biting with her criticism too. She is very gracious and appreciative, just not overly empatheitic and sometimes truly does not know when she is hurting someone’s feelings. I swear it’s like she doesn’t have a filter and just calls it like it is. Brutally honest. I have to admitt, in high school, I was known as the brutally honest one. I suppose not being overly empathetic is not a “scary” idea for a boy or man. But for a girl/woman, there is alot of judgement because women are supposed to be nice and kind to everyone all the time. That’s not to say I’m okay with her criticism of her brother, but I really think in her head, she just sees it as telling the truth. She looks at his handwriting and sees it as not that good. But of course she doesn’t adjust her thought process to include his age. She doesn’t exhibit typical “mean girl” attributes such as excluding people from play etc. As I said, she is a tomboy and doesn’t identify with other girls too much at all. Given the choice, she will sit with the boys at lunch and in the classroom and play football with the boys at recess. She struggles to find her place in “girl world” which makes her a bit socially awkward. So she does not have a “crew” that follows her around on the playground doing whatever she tells them to do or any mean girl behavior like that. She finds those girls to be a waste of time and energy and doesn’t want anything to do with them. Now being shut out of a pick up game of football or soccer, that would hurt her feelings. She is usually the one creating the teams and picking out the players and deciding where they will play. Her brother is more mild mannered, goes along with whatever, very chatty, outgoing, less agressive and competitive. In some ways I feel like as MOTHER OF 2 sugested… that as long as he feels loved and appreciated within the family and we show equal interest in his likes/dislikes, he will be okay. As much as the criticism bothers me, he doesn’t seem to be too phased by it (after the initial argument). However, we are still obviously working on not being so critical or brutally honest.

As far as being bossy equating to leadership… that phrase was taken directly from Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean In”. She states that bossy boys are called leaders and bossy girls are just called mean. I wholeheartedly agree with that and it’s not fair. I feel like it’s my job to allow her to exercise her leadership skills as long as she is not hurting other people. That part we’re working on, but still a huge stigma when a young girl exercises leadership.

Ann

June 18th, 2013
11:07 pm

To those of you who are rolling your eyes at the use of the term “bullying” to describe sibling rivalry. I can only assume that you grew up in a “normal” sibling situation where the conflict was a two-way street and there was also love and support. I agree that the term “bullying” doesn’t apply to those types of sibling relationships. But some of us grew up in families where parents allowed relentless negativity to flow in one direction. Throughout childhood I was bullied by my emotionally disturbed older sister. My parents, though generally loving and well-meaning, were in denial over the fact that she needed help. As a consequence, they never intervened nor acknowledged that the situation was abnormal. When I sought out their protection I was told, “fight your own battles” and that “it takes all kinds–you have to learn to get along with everybody.” As a result I learned not to rely on anyone else to protect me and carried deep shame over my inability to protect myself. I saw my fear of her as a weakness and a flaw. As a result of being scorned and physically threatened every day of my childhood, I ended up marrying a bully. It took 20 years to leave that marriage because, once again, I felt that the abuse was my fault–I didn’t dare tell anyone what was going on because that would be admitting that I wasn’t strong enough to “fight my own battles.” I certainly wish that my parents had gotten over their denial, sought help for my sister and protected me.

beth

June 19th, 2013
8:37 am

Ann, that sounds really awful and sad. I can’t imagine a childhood like that. I’m very sorry for you. But your statements confirm to me that my issue with my kids, although not okay with me, is not a bullying issue. It’s much more of a 2-way street than I initially expressed. My son argues with/picks on his big sister, not with critical words, but in plenty of other ways.

I think when I wrote that first post, I was speaking from a mom’s “worst fear’ point of view. But when I sit back and look at my kids and my family as a whole, we are happy. They are happy. No one lives in a constant state of fear or anything even remotely close to that. They actually get along 10 times more than they argue. Just last night, the kids spent 3 hours listening to music, playing dress up, and puttling on plays/dance shows for us. They’re normal kids with some flaws and things they need to work on, but not bullies and I probably overshared a one sided “worst fear” view of my daughter’s worst character flaw. I feel bad about that. But she is so much more than that and it was not fair of me to leave the impression I did.

Ann

June 19th, 2013
7:09 pm

@ Beth – This is the “other Ann” – not the one above, who experienced the horrible bullying, but the one that chatted with you the day before on the blog about VBS and camps. It sounds like your kids are getting along pretty well much of the time, since they are playing together and putting on shows, which takes some cooperation. I am sure if you continue to encourage your daughter and “praise her” when she is being sweet to her brother (like with the reading, etc) and explain how other comments can be hurtful (such as criticizing how he writes, etc.), she will eventually improve and mature.

In general, though, I think it is our responsibility as parents to help the kid being “picked on” or mistreated to learn how to deal with the situation, but it is also our responsibility to teach the other sibling what is appropriate behavior. In Theresa’s example of her brother taunting her about being flat chested, that is pretty mean. Parents need to, certainly, step in and teach their sons and daughters that you don’t taunt your siblings or other people regarding their physical traits and appearance. I don’t think anyone should excuse away verbal taunting and abuse by just saying they “need to get used to it, as this is how the world is”. It is normal for kids to squabble sometimes and to get on each other’s nerves; but, learning how to respect others begins within the family and kids need to practice that skill with their siblings and parents.