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Study reveals the negative effects of sibling bullying

by Traci Schumacher on Mon, 06/17/2013 - 1:09pm

One thing that drives me absolutely crazy as a parent is dealing with sibling rivalry. With three kids, not a day goes by without some kind of sibling conflict, and it just kills me when one of my little darlings is being mean to another.

A new study published today shows that sibling bullying can have as much of a negative effect on kids as “regular” bullying. This idea seems so intuitive and obvious to me. Yet our society has never before considered the consequences of sibling bullying. In fact, bullying among siblings is often viewed almost as a normal rite of passage for kids.

The study, by researchers at the University of New Hampshire, identified three different kinds of sibling bullying: physical attack, property destruction or taking by force, and psychological aggression (like saying mean things to the child). Scientists found, in some cases, the mental distress caused by sibling bullying was similar to that caused by peer bullying, and therefore needs to be addressed.

Again, this seems quite logical to me, especially as an only child who never dealt with sibling conflicts. I often find myself thinking, “ouch... that's gotta hurt” when my kids are sparring with each other. And then I deal with it, but the words or deeds are already out there at that point.

I'm sure there are some people who will dismiss this study, citing their own experience growing up and turning out “just fine.” But the study does indicate not everyone is affected by sibling bullying in the same way. I'm sure it depends in part on individual personalities, circumstances, relationships, and the extent of the bullying. Nonetheless, parents would be wise to pay attention. So what can be done?

Mark E. Feinberg, a research professor at Penn State University, had these words for us, “Nobody yet has the answer on how to deal with this problem.”

Aaahhhh! Are you kidding me? Many of us moms already knew there was a problem. We were hoping for a little help here.

But the advice is for parents to intervene when they see there's a problem. Teach conflict resolution skills. Establish zero tolerance for bullying. Encourage positive interactions between siblings. Seek the help of child psychiatrists or pediatricians as needed. You know, everything a good parent would probably try to do anyway.

Okay. So we have some interesting research to highlight a problem in sibling relationships. It has been proven to be potentially damaging to our children. And now, parents... Keep on keeping on, dealing with sibling strife the best way we can. Maybe one day the science will catch up and have some more helpful advice for us. In the meantime, carry on.

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