Sibling bullying tends to fly under the radar; in large part because many bullies and victims see it as a normal part of sibling relationships. But sibling bullying is different to typical sibling spats; teasing or playing rough. It is ongoing and repeat use of physical or psychological power to control and dominate another person.

A recently published study track more than 6,000 children in the United Kingdom. It explore just about every factor you could nominate in family bullying including family; parent and child characteristics such as the number of family members, and individual mental health, IQ, personality, social skills and self-esteem. The authors came to some surprising conclusions that overturned a few previously held assumptions.

What is sibling bullying?

In the study, 28% of children reported being involve in sibling bullying either being the bully; victim, or taking turns being both. The onset of bullying typically occurred around eight years old. The study define sibling bullying as repeat aggressive behavior between siblings intend to inflict harm; either physically (for instance hitting, kicking or pushing), psychologically (for instance saying nasty and hurtful things), socially (for instance by telling lies or spreading rumors) or property based (such as stealing or damaging property).

For it to be classified as bullying, the behavior must involve a real or perceived power imbalance. The strongest factors that predicted whether sibling bulling would occur was the presence of older males; (especially first-born); families with larger numbers of siblings, or in households under financial stress. Parents in a high conflict relationship with each other slightly increased the odds of children experiencing bullying.

Children who display antisocial characteristics in early childhood were more likely to bully; their brother or sister. And children with higher self-esteem were slightly protect from the risk of being bully. Surprisingly, single-parent households and lower parental education or social class did not increase the risk of sibling bullying. Social conditions and parenting factors, even including parental maltreatment mattered only slightly; if at all.Nefariously, bullies were found to have more advanced social skills; allowing them to adapt and hone their bullying behaviors to maximum effect.

Impacts of sibling bullying

Other research shows that sibling bullying increases the risk of the victim becoming the target of peer; bullying and developing emotional problems in adulthood. The child who is bully by both siblings and peers is in a particularly awful predicament, as their childhood is marr with no escape from this treatment.

The impacts of sibling bullying have been shown to persist long-term. The experience can damage the possibility of a healthy relationship between the siblings; and double the risk of the victim experiencing depression and self-harm in adulthood. The research paints a particular picture: bullying among siblings is more likely to occur when parental resources such as time; money, attention and affection are stretched too thin between siblings. This is especially the case in a family with males who are older or first born.

Such findings are in line with recent Australian research that show adding a brother or sister to keep the elder child company typically backfires, and instead just places the family under further pressure. The take-home message for parents is to thoughtfully plan your family structure.