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When siblings quarrel is it bullying?

If you have more than one child, you’ve heard your kids fight before. But these fights can sometimes escalate into something more harmful: sibling bullying. Sibling bullying comes in many forms but is most often verbal or physical. It can have the same negative effects that any bullying has: creating low self-esteem, feelings of trauma and depression are just some of the many side effects. Sometimes, children might not realize that their actions are hurting their siblings. It’s important to educate your kids on the impact their words and actions have.

So how do we try our best to avoid sibling bullying?

Talk About Each Other’s Feelings.  In many relationships, siblings might not realize how much they’re hurting or bullying a sibling.  For example, asking a younger sister, “Why are you wearing that?” might seem benign but it hurts the younger sibling’s self-esteem.  Sit down with your kids and discuss what might be going in in your children’s relationship.  Do they feel left out? Picked upon? Or simply looked down upon? There is no alternative for a good chat with your children about their feelings. 

Brainstorm different safe words for siblings to use if they feel the other sibling is bullying them.
Also, discuss how we all interpret things differently and express love in a different way. Encourage siblings to learn how they are different and similar in all aspects of their life.

Diffuse Jealously:  Bullying often has a root in jealousy. Talk to your kids about how jealousy is a normal human emotion, but they can choose whether or not to act on it.  Try and point out that as a parent you are doing your best to please everyone and sometimes you might seem distracted by a sibling but this is temporary.  Encourage your children to speak up AS they feel the emotion and not hold it in their belly!

Don’t ‘label’ siblings:  Avoid tagging siblings as ‘my smart kid’ or ‘my kind kid’ = instead give concrete compliments regularly to all your children so no one feels left out. Let your children know that you value their efforts as much as their siblings.  

Model a Healthy Relationship:

Kids learn how to navigate relationships through their parents first and then their peers. Create respectful relationships where kind words are cherished.  Develop healthy boundaries and problem-solving communication in your relationships with your partner first, with your siblings and hopefully your children will mimic your grace.

Bullies Aren’t Born

Although some kids might be more aggressive than others, chances are the child who is bullying their siblings learned this behavior somewhere or is reacting to other pain they’re going through. While it may be challenging to work through bullying with your child, know that this is likely a learned behavior that doesn’t need to be permanent.

Examples of Bullying

My latest book, The Daydreamer and Dragon tell the story of a typical sibling relationship in which one sibling feels constantly looked down upon and inferior due to one of her siblings constant criticizing. Throughout this warmly illustrated children’s picture book we learn that all, the younger sister actually needs is less negative comments from her sister and more positive reinforcement – what all children need.

The bullying discussion should be ongoing and contain examples of statements and actions that can hurt siblings. If this is an issue you are dealing with in your household, you will find some very useful answers and tactics to use in your struggle to put an end to this bullying. It’s not just parents who can play a key role in this struggle – baby sitters, teachers, cousins – the list is endless. Keep an eye on things at home and keep bullying away.

The Daydreamer and the Dragon is available on Amazon.com

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