Sibling Bullying Or Sibling Rivalry?

All kids and siblings fight. A little Sibling rivalry can have positive consequences when it teaches children how compromise, negotiate, and solve conflicts. But when sibling rivalry crosses the line and become bullying, as it does for 30% or children and adolescents, parents need to intervene.

by Stacey Schifferdecker

All siblings fight—that’s just a fact of life. And sibling rivalry can have positive consequences when it teaches children how compromise, negotiate, and solve conflicts. But when sibling rivalry crosses the line and become bullying, as it does for 30% or children and adolescents, parents need to intervene.

Sibling Bullying,  fighting or just teasing?
“But Mom, I was just teasing!”

This may be the phrase you hear when you intervene in a bullying situation. What is the difference between teasing and bullying?

• In bullying, a stronger, more powerful person purposely hurts or frightens a smaller or weaker person. One child is in control and is consistently hurting another child, who feels helpless to stop the situation.
• When someone bullies, they intend to do harm. Teasing is intended to be playful (but can turn into bullying if it lasts too long, ends up being harmful, or one person is no longer having fun).
• Bullying is persistent while teasing can be an on-again, off-again thing.

The basic rule of thumb is this: Behavior that would be unacceptable between two unrelated children is unacceptable between siblings.

If you are still unsure whether a situation is teasing or bullying, step in anyway! The only way bullying will stop is if adults step up and demand people treat others with value and honor. If your children really think they are teasing, explain to them that teasing is not acceptable if it hurts the other person. The teased person is not being a bad sport for refusing to tolerate demeaning or hurtful words or actions.
The “Stop” rule
To help kids learn to tell when teasing and horseplay has gone to far and is becoming bullying, implement a “Stop” rule in your house. This rule is very simple: when someone tells you “STOP,” you stop. So if Kegan is tickling Jocelyn and Jocelyn, through her giggles, gasps “STOP,” Kegan must stop, even if Jocelyn was laughing and he thinks she was having fun. If Jocelyn says, “Tickle me again,” then he can start again.

Sibling Fighting: The “Stop” rule has several benefits:

• Kids learn to stand up for themselves and that their words will be listened to.
• Kids learn to control themselves.
• Kids learn to listen to and respect each other.

And learning to say “Stop” and to listen to and respect “Stop” can only serve both boys and girls well when they start dating!

By the way, your kids may try to get away with ignoring the “Stop” rule by saying, “But he didn’t say please.” (Yes, my children have done this.) I tell them saying please is not required when you are defending or protecting yourself.

Check your family life
It’s painful to think about, but if bullying is going on between your children, you need to check your home life and atmosphere. Is your home a haven for your children or a war zone? A harsh home where kids see bullying between their parents or between a parent and child makes them more susceptible to bullying (whether as the bully or the victim).

To make your home the haven you want it to be, require everyone in the family, adults and children alike, to treat each other with honor and respect. Of course you will need to discipline your children, but you can focus on their unacceptable behaviors rather than harshly criticizing them. In this way, your home will generally be a happy place.

Stacey Schifferdecker is the happy but harried mother of three school-aged children—two boys and a girl. She is also a freelance writer, a Children’s Minister, a PTA volunteer, and a Scout leader. Stacey has a Bachelor’s degree in Communications and French and a Master’s degree in English. She has written extensively about parenting and education as well as business, technology, travel, and hobbies.

No part of this article may be copied or reproduced in any form without the express permission of More4Kids Inc © and all rights reserved.



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  • I think my husband needs to read this post. He’s always been a jokester kind of guy but my daughter takes it so personally sometimes. He may not see the harm in it but I do.

    Thanks for sharing this with the Carnival of Family Life.

  • I believe that parents who respect each other and their children, will raise well-adjusted children. Having a stop rule is an excellent suggestion. From my perspective children live and learn what is occurring within the environment created by their parents.

  • My two little brothers definitely had a problem with sibling rivalry when they were little. It did some good but also caused some unnecessary fights. I don’t think it was ever bullying. This is a great thing for parents to learn about and keep an eye out for.

    Here via the carnival of family life.

  • One additional problem I can anticipate with our boys is what happens when they use the “STOP” rule against the adults. i.e. when we are telling one or both of them off about something?

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