Expert Parent Advice

Sibling Bullying

All families have sibling squabbles, but when does it go too far?  When does sibling rivalry become sibling bullying?

I’m Amy McCready with Positive Parenting Solutions and I’m proud to partner with Kids ‘R’ Kids for the Expert Parenting Advice series. In this segment, I’ll share the signs for sibling bullying and talk about what parents can do to prevent it.

A recent study published in the journal of Pediatrics found 32% of respondents reported some type of sibling victimization in the past year.  Researchers also found that bullying and aggressive behavior by a sibling can be as damaging as peer bullying and is linked to increased depression, anxiety and anger. Unfortunately, kids who are bullied at home are also likely to be bullied by their peers.

If you have more than one child, you know that kids will fight – it’s part of the family dynamic. But, when does normal sibling rivalry cross the line and become sibling bullying?  The red flags for sibling bullying are similar to those of peer bullying…

1.  There is an imbalance of power. A stronger, more powerful person consistently hurts the smaller or weaker person. It can be physical harm, emotional abuse or taking property. 

2.  Episodes are repeated and persistent versus once in a while, light-hearted teasing

3.  The person being bullied is beyond his capability in handling the aggression and feels helpless.

4. The threat of future bullying is present and real.

You also want to pay attention if one sibling consistently avoids being with the other; or if your child complains of physical symptoms like a stomachache or seems stressed, anxious or withdrawn – these are all red flags that there could be something else going on.

So what should parents do?

We actually want to stay out of their fights whenever possible so they can learn to work out their differences but do pay attention from a distance. Then, step in and separate the kids when you feel one is clearly beyond his ability to handle the situation.

It's also important to teach conflict resolution strategies on an ongoing basis such as “Talk, Then Walk.” Role-play with the kids how to use a strong confident voice to say, "Stop it. I don't like that."  If that doesn't work, then it's time to walk.  Teach them to walk out of the room so there's no one to fight with. 

Teach empathy on an ongoing basis. Research shows that kids who bully lack empathy. After a scuffle, talk to your child privately and ask, "How do you think your brother felt when you said (x)?" What can you do to make it right with him?  We’re not looking for obligatory “I’m sorry’s.”  It should be some act of kindness to make it right with the other person.

When kids can't work it out and you do have to intervene, don't play judge and jury. Intervene only as a mediator.  Let each share his side of the story and then turn it back on them: "What ideas do you have to solve this problem?"  

Conflict resolution training requires a lot of practice and a lot of patience. It’s not going to happen over night, but it will happen if you consistently take time for training. 

If the red flags I mentioned earlier are happening more often and despite your best efforts with training on empathy conflict resolution strategies, things aren’t improving, then it’s time to seek professional help.

Also -To discover the top 5 ways parents unknowingly fuel sibling rivalry, check out the interactive that goes along with this video.

And for ongoing solutions to your parenting challenges visit us often at