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?