Siblings fight, but what should you do if you suspect one sibling is bullying another?
Anytime you get a group of people together there is going to be a conflict. The question is, how bad is the conflict and does it cause any lasting damage?
When it comes to siblings, they are going to fight and argue and yes, these are great opportunities for them to learn how to negotiate, play fair and navigate difficult social relationships. It doesn’t mean that they are going to learn how to do those things by virtue of fighting with siblings, only that there is an opportunity for them to learn how.
Whether they learn these important life skills or not depends on whether they get the support from parents to learn what you want them to. And this is especially important if it turns out that one child is bullying another.
According to recent research as reported in USA Today, sibling bullying is just as destructive and harmful psychologically speaking as bullying which is done by a peer. (See: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/06/17/bullying-siblings-aggression/2421067/)
How can parents not only tell the difference between what is normal and what isn’t and more importantly, make sure that one of their children is not being victimized by one another.
The first thing a parent needs to do is to get a better understanding of who is doing what. Not why they did it or who is at fault, but who did what and in what sequence. This will help you determine whether you are dealing with bullying or arguments that are getting out of control.
A normal argument or fight involves disagreement, aggression, retaliation and escalation. It might start out as an annoying behavior and or verbal sparring and then escalate to physical violence. Fights are basically even. Both sides are equally involved. If a fight becomes physically violent you need to intervene. The question is, how can you help them learn how to avoid these sorts of conflicts in the first place and how can you help them learn how to diffuse them so they don’t escalate.
In bullying, the aggression is often one sided, with one side always loosing. Don’t just assume that because the older sibling is older that is the reason they are winning these fights. If they are always instigating and winning these fights then what is happening isn’t sibling fighting it is bullying. Keep in mind, it might very well be the younger sibling who is always instigating things and escalating them until they get their sibling in trouble. It is a clever way for the youngest to gain control over their older siblings.
Just because one side fights back and attempts to defend themselves doesn’t mean it is a fight. It could be bullying. What you want to learn is this: is there a pattern to what is happening. Is one person always instigating things? If so, then training for the person being goaded into retaliation is in order. How can they best defend themselves without retaliating and escalating? You need to make yourself available to help when asked. Your goal is to teach the child requesting the help the skills they need to defend themselves and yes, learning to report when something bad happens is an important skills you actually do want them to learn. It may be a hassle to you but if someone outside the family hurt them, don’t you want them to report it? Of course you do. In order for them to learn that reporting is good, you need to respond well when they report things. This doesn’t mean you solve their problem for them, it means you help them solve their problem on their own by teaching them the skills they need to be successful.