Sibling Rivalry Is More Harmful Than You Think

little girlWe've heard a lot lately about how harmful bullies can be -- online and at school. But what about bullies at home? In a new study, doctors are finding that "sibling aggression" can be just as harmful as bullying at school. Even one act can bring about the same feelings of anxiety and aggression, and can lead to mental health problems later on. And it's all happening right under parents' noses ... more or less.

But don't kids fight all the time anyway? Didn't we all grow up squabbling with our siblings -- and didn't we more or less survive it? How on Earth are you supposed to tell the difference between run-of-the-mill tussles between brothers and sisters and the kind of serious sibling aggression that really hurts?

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Amanda Nickerson, director of the Alberti Center for Bullying Abuse Prevention at the University at Buffalo, did not work on the study. But she has some ideas about how to tell ordinary rivalry from actual bullying. "To assess bullying, it is important to assess the intent of the aggression -- was it done to cause harm? -- the repetition of it, and the power imbalance between the perpetrator and the victim."

So there are some key ideas there:

1. Is one child intentionally trying to harm another?

2. Is this harm a regular thing?

3. Is there a power imbalance? In other words, is it an older, bigger sibling picking on a younger, smaller sibling?

This still sounds a lot like regular sibling behavior, but at least it gives us more specific ideas of what to look for. I think there's a difference between just whacking at a little brother so he'll get out of your space and actually twisting his arm behind his back, for example. Or if an older sister makes fun of what her younger sister wears pretty much every day, that's another form of bullying.

If anything, this should help parents to pick their battles. It can get exhausting to referee every single fight your kids ever have. But if you can at least recognize bullying behavior, then maybe you can prioritize what you discipline.

Do you feel like you can tell the difference between harmless sibling rivalry and serious sibling bullying?

 

Image via Nattu/Flickr

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