A new study finds sibling aggression can impact mental health

July 10th, 2013 | by Amelia Hadley | Comments

managing-sibling-rivalryI don’t know about other kids, but mine bicker. All the time. They also tattle like it’s necessary for survival.

On any given day one of my kids may run to me, imploring me to punish their sibling, because said sibling “fake sneezed” or one of them tells me that so-and-so left their wet towel on the floor or that their brother/sister walked too close to the side the house. What?! It’s pretty constant and it’s mostly lame.

The tattling turns into bickering, which turns into fighting, which has been known to turn into pretty big battles. With the kids home all summer, it can get bad. They are together so much more during the summer than they are during the school year.

I’ve learned that when frustrations runneth over, my kids purposefully drive each other nuts. It’s not Lord of the Flies-bad, but I find it very aggravating. How many times can we make the little one scream by repeatedly throwing her dolly in the air? Hey, why don’t I walk by my brother and smack him upside the head, for no reason? I will now disassemble the Lego structure I just watched my sister painstakingly build.

I know sibling squabbles are normal and it’s even healthy to allow them to get into it and figure out how to resolve conflicts on their own, but when does typical sibling stuff become bullying?

A  recent study published in Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, equated aggression between siblings to peer-on-peer bullying.  Based on the findings, the professionals who conducted the study concluded that “the possible importance of sibling aggression for children’s and adolescents’ mental health should not be dismissed” and that “the mobilization to prevent and stop peer victimization and bullying should expand to encompass sibling aggression as well.”

Elementary, middle and high schools are full of bullies. My husband and I have taught our kids to always stand up for people who are being bullied, no matter what their peers may think. I want to make sure we’re being especially diligent at home though as well. What we might consider a typical sibling argument, others may consider bullying.

There is a big difference between normal sibling fighting and abusive or malicious behavior. My kids aren’t guilty of the latter, but they can stand to dial it down on the rude comments.

There’s something one of my children says to another quite often and, even though the recipient child laughs, we’re trying to put the kibosh on it. It isn’t nice and if it was coming from a classmate, I’d be angry.

I tell my kids all the time that our home is a soft place to land after a hard day. “You may have a horrible day, but you walk through our front door, and you’re safe,” I say. “No matter what.” I don’t want incessant teasing between the kids to ruin that.



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