"Normal" Sibling Rivalry, or Something More?

My youngest son, 17, recently disclosed that there were times when he was young in which he felt intimidated by his older brothers.  As the youngest of six with a fourteen year span between oldest and youngest, there were times he felt that being the youngest was difficult.  His brothers were surprised to hear the hurt- they had not intended harm and apologies were offered and accepted.  The relationships seem repaired and closer than ever.  I am grateful that he was able to share that with his brothers, and know that it took courage to do so.  I am also sad that we were not aware of the impact of those incidents at the time they occurred.  

A recent article discussed the effects of sibling bullying.  It indicated that even seemingly harmless taunting can lead to anxiety or depression later in life.  The effects of feeling bullied by a sibling may be just as damaging as being bullied by peers, and a whopping 32% of kids in the study reported being bullied by a sibling!  "Even kids who reported just one instance had more mental health distress."  Our home, a place where we hope to feel safe, may not feel that way to young children with siblings that taunt, tease, or rough-house them.  

What can parents do to protect the children in the household from feeling bullied?  The first thing that comes to mind is payattention.  Know what your kids are doing.  If you hear yelling or rough-housing, check in with them.  We may not be able to be in the same room with them all the time, but we do need to be aware of what is happening in our home.  Really listen to them and validate their feelings to foster open communication and a feeling of safety.  

Be clear with your children regarding your expectations about their behavior toward their siblings.  They also need to know what the consequences will be if they act in a manner that is not acceptable toward a brother or sister.  And consistency is key.  If the behavior is sometimes ignored or minimized, it will be repeated.   Modeling compassion, caring, and tenderness speaks volumes to your children.  If they see parents yelling, hitting, or putting each other down, it will be difficult to convince them that those very behaviors are not acceptable.  

Teach your children how to resolve conflict.  Siblings will have moments of disagreeing, whether over a toy or chores or some other issue.  These are teachable moments, and a wonderful opportunity to equip them with a skill that will serve them well throughout their life.  

Sibling relationships are the longest relationships we have during this life.  Hopefully, we will experience our siblings as a source of closeness, support and encouragement.  As parents, we have a role in helping those relationships get off to a good start by encouraging kindness and compassion between our children.  

To read the article on Sibling Bullying, click here