Sibling Bullying Just as Damaging as Peer Bullying

Getty ImagesAll siblings argue and fight, right? Generally, yes. It can be problematic, however, when one sibling bullies another. 

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According to a new study published Monday in the journal Pediatrics, sibling bullying can be just as damaging as peer bullying, leading to depression, anxiety, and anger.

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Researchers at the University of New Hampshire in Durham analyzed data from the National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence, studying nearly 3,600 kids ages 1 month through 17 years old who lived with at least one sibling. The kids were interviewed by phone about whether they had been victimized by a sibling in the past year. For kids under the age of 9, a parent answered on their behalf.

“In the past, people have viewed sibling bullying as more acceptable behavior than schoolyard bullying and some even say that it can prepare them for dealing with real-world conflict,” lead study author Corinna Jenkins Tucker, an associate professor of family studies told Yahoo! Shine. “However, our study found that the effects of bullying at home are generally on par with those of school bullying.”

Scientists measured four types of bullying: mild physical assault (being hit, beaten, or kicked without an object/weapon or resulting injury), severe physical assault (using an object or weapon to inflict the aforementioned bullying), property aggression (stealing a sibling’s property or breaking it), and psychological aggression (feeling scared because a sibling said mean things or was exclusionary).

“Although we don’t know why, we found that younger victims of mild physical assault, were more mentally distressed than adolescent victims, and victims of all types who experienced even one bullying incident were more mentally distressed than those who hadn’t been bullied,” says Tucker. “The takeaway is that even one bullying incident can cause damage.”

So, how can parents prevent their kids from being victims of sibling bullying and keep the peace at home?

"Don't ignore the problem," Lawrence Balter, psychologist and author told Yahoo! Shine. "It's a mistake to think that kids will work things out on their own, especially when they're angry and emotional. They need guidance." Here are the top three mistakes parents make when dealing with sibling rivalry:

Blaming the older child: "Parents often get frustrated with the older kid, especially if he's more mature and 'should know better' but younger children can be bullies as well, especially if they've learned what buttons to push in their older siblings" says Balter. "It's important to take the time to hear out both children."

Believing that emotional bullying is less hurtful than physical bullying:
"Many parents believe that if 'the child isn't bleeding' that the situation isn't that bad," says Balter. "But we know now that emotional bullying can be just as detrimental as the physical kind."

Expecting your kids to play together all the time: Bullying can often arise when parents say, 'Go to your room and play' but if the two children are of different ages, they may not get along," says Balter. "A five-year-old kid may have vastly different interests than an eight-year-old and that's understandable." Allowing your children space to explore their own interests rather than forcing them together may cut down on conflict.

Bullying can also create lasting psychological damage. If you were a victim of sibling bullying, you may still feel the effects as an adult. "If you're having trouble coping with what happened in your childhood, it may be a good idea to sit down with your sibling and explain how his or her behavior affected you," says Balter.

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