Historically, bullying has been viewed as an act of aggression that occurs outside the home, perpetrated by people who are perceived to be threatening and mean, not the type that live in your own home. In fact, bullying behavior is defined as “intimidation or an attempt to have power over someone” who is perceived as weaker-than, either through physical aggression or more subtle social-emotional tactics.
In the July 2013 issue of Pediatrics, an article, “Association of Sibling Aggression With Child and Adolescent Mental Health,” concluded that bullying behavior has a significant impact on siblings. This study is groundbreaking in that it identifies bullies as siblings and not evil people who only exist outside of our homes. The study results concluded that thousands of children are victims of sibling bullying and had the same negative psychological effects as those children who are bullied outside of the home, in the world at large.
Bullying in the home has received almost no attention compared to the national anti-bullying campaign focused on protecting children from bullying in schools and the community. What should parents know about bullying in order to proactively address it at home?
First and foremost, distinguish between sibling rivalry and bullying behavior.
Sibling rivalry is normal, natural and common in most families and is behavior such as:
Arguments over an object or personal item
Feelings of jealousy
No imbalance of power
Presence of random acts of kindness — “Are my children ever kind to each other?” Siblings who are rivals are kind, especially when not competing.
“Do my children get along when I am not around?” Many times, children who fight for competition do just fine when parents are absent, as there is no need to compete for attention. This is not the case for bullies.
In contrast, bullying behavior is pervasive, consistent and can be subtle or aggressive. It consists of the following behaviors: