The Current

Sibling bullying 'has the greatest impact,' says parenting expert

A growing body of research shows that sibling bullying is an increasingly serious problem and one with consequences later in life.
Kids may not have a safe place anywhere when the bully is a sibling, says psychology professor Dieter Wolke. (seth capitulo/flickr cc)

Read story transcript

The kids are bickering and fighting at home — but when does sibling rivalry cross the line into bullying?

A growing body of research suggests that sibling bullying is an increasingly serious problem with consequences later in life:  distress, behaviour problems and also mental health issues.

"It's really important as parents that we recognize two kids fighting over a TV program they need to learn to handle it themselves. Bullying you stop," says parenting expert Barbara Coloroso, author of The Bully, The Bullied, and the Not so Innocent Bystander.

Coloroso points out the many different ways of bulling: roling eyes as a message of disdain, the shunning and exclusion of the sibling.

"Bullying is about getting pleasure from someone else's pain - from isolating them, verbally tormenting them or…physically assaulting them."

The initial pain of getting bullied may go away, says Coloroso. "But humiliation never goes away. And we now know that sibling bullying has the greatest impact."

'The humiliation never goes away' for children bullied by a sibling, says parenting expert Barbara Coloroso. (Tony Fischer/flickr cc)

Dieter Wolke, psychology professor at England's University of Warwick, was part of a study on sibling bullying published in Pediatrics in 2014.

He says that the research suggests that every week or several times a week, up to 50 per cent of siblings are involved in aggression against each other. 

"Those who were regularly bullied by siblings were twice as likely to develop clinically significant depression and anxiety disorder by 18 years of age."

In that study, about 7,000 children aged 12 were asked if they had experienced "a sibling saying hurtful things, hitting, ignoring or lying about them."They were then followed up at age 18 and asked about their mental health.

This segment was produced by The Current's Paula Last.