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My youngest daughter has told me she’s being bullied, not at school but at home. She says her oldest sister picks on her constantly and is making her life a misery. I don’t want to overreact, but I do want to deal with the issue effectively. What should I do?
ATo my mind, the key question here is; when does normal ‘sibling rivalry’ become ‘sibling bullying’? At what point is the line stepped over? We know the nature of bullying generally involves put-downs and name-calling, but then anyone with brothers and/or sisters probably knows and remembers this in their childhood and that it can be tough as a kid sometimes.
Sibling bullying is quite different to standard family bickering and rows though. I think the line comes with the ‘intent’ to bully, when the bully knows all too well what they are doing. When the nature of the bullying is constant, secretive, cruel and manipulative – this is sibling bullying and not sibling rivalry. Also, when ‘banter’ and chat is replaced with secret threats of or even the action of physical violence, this is a bully at work.
I define bullying as an intentional, repeated and targeted aggressive act towards an individual who finds it difficult to protect themselves. There may be a real or perceived difference in power and in the case of siblings, a perceived favouritism. Sibling bullies are what we term ‘niche’ bullies – they act only in the home, focus on a single victim, they focus on insecurities and fears, and their actions are harder to detect because they can determine who should or should not witness their actions.
Victims of sibling bullying often feel humiliated and powerless. It’s stressful to live in an environment where a bully is at work – and often children are unhappy as a result. In fact, sibling bullying is just as (if not more so) prevalent than school bullying. You wouldn’t countenance bullying there, so, please don’t give it tacit approval in your home.
Parents are often reluctant to identify this behaviour as bullying; therefore, I’m pleased you have reached out.
As a parent you need to take control. State how you will not tolerate disrespect in your home – a new rule is that everyone will actively be supportive towards one another and adopt a new philosophy that encourages all family members to support and care for one another. Additionally, you should discuss with your kids what you consider constitutes a healthy friendship and encourage them to take the steps to become a good friend to their siblings. Your actions need to be firm and resolute. This will bring comfort to the victim and lead to sanctions for the perpetrator.
Remain vigilant and try to prevent any further bullying incidents. Your duty is to monitor the situation, rectifying unkind or bullying deeds instantly. Remember, if one of your kids bullies another, this doesn’t automatically mean you are a poor parent. Kids constantly test boundaries and are always discovering what is acceptable behaviour and what is not. By remaining firm and consistent you and your kids will come through this and ultimately emerge stronger for.