When Bullying Is All in the Family

Study: sibling bullying may be as harmful as peer bullying

two brothers fighting

Bullying by other kids has been established as harmful to a child’s mental health. If it happens at home between brothers and sisters, parents may dismiss it as just a normal part of family life.

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However, a new study suggests bullying by a brother or sister may be just as harmful as peer bullying.

Study finds sibling bullying similar to peer bullying

University of New Hampshire researchers surveyed nearly 3,600 kids, up to age 17, on incidents of sibling aggression or bullying that happened to them over the past year.

Kate Eshleman, PsyD, did not take part in the study but is a child psychologist at Cleveland Clinic Children’s. She says a variety of aggressive acts by siblings were looked at in the study, including physical abuse, teasing, name calling and stealing and breaking of property.

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Kids who experienced this type of bullying by siblings reported greater mental health distress, particularly those under age 9. And when comparing sibling bullying to peer bullying, researchers found that both independently have negative effects on a child’s mental health.

Researchers recommend efforts to slow or stop bullying by siblings that are similar to those in place to stop peer bullying.

If bullying is going on in your family

Dr. Eshleman says pay close attention to how your children interact with each other and what their mood is like afterward. She advises you ask yourself these questions if you suspect one of your children is being bullied by another:

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  • Do you see differences over time in that child’s behavior?
  • Is the child becoming more sad or withdrawn?
  • Is the child becoming more angry or easily agitated?

If you think bullying is going on within your family it is important to address it immediately, says Dr. Eshleman. Talk with your children, attempt to assess the triggers to the behavior and educate them on the importance of ending the behavior. If it continues despite your efforts to mediate, talk to your pediatrician.

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