HOW TO ADDRESS SIBLING BULLYING
Sibling rivalry is normal in families with more than one child. It becomes a problem when one child dominates the other. If one of your children bullies his siblings and needs to control others by getting physical, it indicates some underlying emotional issues. Bullying is an effort to solve an emotional problem, often when a sense of imbalance or unfairness is felt. The victim who is being picked on often develops antagonizing methods of getting back at the bully. So, in order to avoid the escalation, you as a parent, needs to step in.
Here are a few tips on how to address sibling bullying:
1. Put an end to aggressive behavior. If hitting, pushing, name-calling are happening, you need to intervene immediately to stop it. Tell your child that this behavior is not acceptable and hold the bully responsible by stressing that bullying causes pain for their brothers and sisters. However, do not blame the bully. His behavior reflects difficult feelings that need to be acknowledged and validated.
2. Defuse jealousy that is often at the core of the bullying. As a parent, you do need to praise your children equally. Make sure that each child receives his share of love, affection, recognition, appreciation, and acceptance. Avoid comparison and remember that compliments equal love to your child.
3. Be a role model to your children. Show your children how to support and help one another and how to encourage healthy friendship among them.
4. Foster empathy. Studies show that empathy is one way of preventing bullying. If your child is empathetic, he will understand that bullying his siblings hurt them and will learn how to refrain from it.
5. Teach them how to solve problems so that everyone wins. Give them opportunities where they need to work collaboratively to get the job done. Make sure to supervise them so that everyone benefits from the collaboration.
Ideally, a family is a safe place where everyone feels loved and equal. When an imbalance appears, it needs to be solved quickly so that sibling bullying does not develop over time.
WHEN SIBLING FIGHTING BECOMES SIBLING BULLYING
While it is perfectly normal that siblings fight and bicker on a regular basis, sometimes the rivalry goes too far and crosses the line. But, how do you know when picking on the little brother or sister becomes bullying?
So, first, let’s restate what bullying is exactly. By definition, bullying is repetitive, has a purposeful, negative, and hurtful intent, and reflects a power differential between the victim and the perpetrator. Oftentimes, parents ignore or dismiss bullying among their children considering that all siblings fight. However, studies show that bullying promotes anxiety, depression, and social stress. So, disregarding this type of behavior is definitely not the solution. The first step is to be able to identify the problem.
Here are 5 signs that might suggest that sibling fighting is a bullying problem:
1. The intensity and the frequency of the fighting is quite high among siblings.
2. You can identify patterns in the fighting. For example, the same child is tormented over and over by the same sibling about the same topic.
3. A power differential is overt. One sibling is more powerful in some way (older, bigger, more socially skilled,…)
4. The siblings do not reconcile after the fight. They do not demonstrate warmth to one another at other times.
5. One child lacks empathy toward his sibling. In other words, he cannot put himself in his sibling’s shoes and cannot understand emotionally his sibling.
The second step is to understand the dynamic between the perpetrator and the victim. The talk tends to be: bullies equal bad and victims equal good. But, of course, it is more complex than that. A bully doesn’t bully for fun. It may look like that, but actually a bully bullies in order to solve a problem – usually, to gain equilibrium where an imbalance is felt.
The root of the problem lies in the lack of validation of feelings. A child’s feelings should always be validated instead of being dismissed. Some uncomfortable children’ feelings (jealousy, anger, sadness, fear,…) should be acknowledged in a non-judgmental way and empathized with. When a child feels understood emotionally, his uncomfortable feelings will lessen.
Stay tuned for the third step that will address HOW TO ADDRESS SIBLING BULLYING.
As a parent and a therapist, I want to offer some tips on how to raise happy and healthy kids. Please feel free to comment on my posts.