A Definition of Bullying
Bullying is a repeated, intentional, targeted aggression towards someone who finds it hard to defend themselves, where there is a real or perceived difference in power. It can be psychological, verbal, physical, cyber, involve property or exclusion.
Could it be occurring between your children? Yes, it can,
Studies have consistently found that between one-third and one-half of children (under 18) are involved in sibling bullying, and bullies can be the eldest, middle or youngest child. Research also suggests that bullying tends to increase with family size, but severe bullying can also happen in families with two children.
Does it cause harm? Yes, it does.
Some of the things children who have been bullied by their siblings say they experience:
- Relentless mocking, name-calling and put-downs
- Physical violence or threats
- The taking or damaging of their possessions
- Being monitored and controlled
- Their pet being tortured
How does it leave them feeling?
- Stressed and unhappy
What’re the serious effects?
There is a well-established link between being bullied and mental health difficulties in young people. A UK study in 2014 (with over 6,000 children) found that being bullied by a sibling at age 12 doubled the odds of depression, anxiety and self-harm by age 18 with some of the long-term effects being:
- Fractured relationships not just between the bullied and the bully, but within the whole family
- Psychological problems
- Inability to have good relationships
- Poor self-esteem issues
What parents or carers can do:
Pay attention to how your children relate to each other, and don’t just put it down to ‘sibling rivalry’.
Sibling rivalry is a term that a child psychiatrist (Levy) in the 1940s used to describe sibling jealousy of a new baby suggesting this was natural or instinctive. The feedback from children who have been bullied by their siblings says it is much more than this.
Try to notice if one child always seems to be at a disadvantage. If bullying is happening, get professional help quickly for both children. There is an urgent need to stop it and repair the relationships.
Avoid differential treatment and notice if there is any real or perceived favouritism. It may seem impossible to do this, particularly if you feel you are not favouring one child over the other. There are things you can do to counter this concern. They include:
- Paying attention to each child giving them their time with you
- Asking how they feel about each other
- Guiding them in how to communicate well with each other
- Make clear that you won’t tolerate any behaviour that oppresses the other and nip it in the bud when you spot it
Understand that your relationship with your husband and partner can prevent you from seeing what is happening. Remember that children learn more from what you do than what you say, so it’s important to model healthy relationships.
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