It’s normal for siblings to have conflicts. However, in some cases, incessant sibling fights or jealousy may degenerate into bullying without the parents realizing it. The downside is that, like any other form of bullying, this may adversely affect the victim’s self esteem as well as emotional, mental and social health.
If you’ve recently noticed some unusual tension or pattern between your children, here are a few typical signs one of them may be bullying the other and what to do.
Verbal abuse. Regardless of who is present, a sibling bully may have a flair for name-calling, consistently passing harsh remarks about the other sibling’s features or supposed weaknesses, like ‘you are just too fat’ or ‘everyone knows you’re so slow/dumb’ to make others think less of them, make them feel bad or demoralized and think that the other sibling is a lot cooler than they are.
It’s likely worse things are said in your absence.
A sibling bully also often intimidates and takes out his frustrations on his sibling. Whether during play, at the dining table or elsewhere, he keeps his sibling terrified and under his wings by the scary thought of getting another bite, slap, kick, hair pulling or worse.
If one of your children is always particularly submissive to the other who is quite physically aggressive and bossy, bullying may be taking place. It’s not normal that a particular sibling always gets his way with the other.
Unexplained bites, bruises, wounds or cuts are also cues something fishy is going on in your absence and the victim is afraid to spill, owing to possible threats.
Reluctance to interact. In addition, if you notice a particular child is often reluctant to interact with other siblings or seems scared or uncomfortable with being left alone with them, they may be ganging up to bully him in your absence, and you should promptly investigate.
What To Do
Is your behaviour encouraging bullying in any way? For instance, are you giving any child preferential treatment? You may be empowering that child to feel like he can get away with anything or making him a victim of his sibling’s increasing jealousy and rage.
Take a wholistic look at yourself and your spouse’s behaviour to uncover any way you may both be contributing to bullying in your home.
Talk to them. Do this collectively and individually consistently, stating clearly how siblings should be and what you expect from each of them. In addition, make it crystal clear to older siblings that you and your spouse alone have the sole responsibility of enforcing discipline/consequences – erring siblings or concerns must therefore be reported to you first.
Also, avoid empowering older siblings to play the parent in any way, especially in your absence.
Model empathy and teach the sibling being bullied strategies to curb the experience, including always being firm and reporting to you as soon as possible. This will empower the bullied sibling, and may soon discourage further bullying.
Figure out their common interests and create lots of subtly supervised avenues for them to spend more quality time exploring them together. This may help mend their relationship and foster a more close-knit one.
Always investigate any anomaly. A mother’s instinct is hardly ever wrong, so, always investigate and get to the very bottom whenever you suspect something is fishy between them and address it promptly.
Look for possible clues, invite both parties, hear them out, identify and discuss the loopholes together, reassure them of your love and gradually help them break the ugly circle through more supervision, modelling expected behaviour and spending more quality time with them.
Enforce consequences. Turning the blind eye when you make discoveries that should be addressed or trivializing them will make things worse as one of the best ways to curb the bullying sibling’s excesses is to make him accountable. Set effective consequences and always enforce them.
Finally, raise your children in a loving environment and refuse to tolerate any sort of meanness or disrespect towards each other. Remember to always set a worthy example while at it and avoid the use of negative labels.
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