Sibling rivalry and competition have been around since Cain and Abel. Some fighting and competition are normal, and families usually weather the storms, especially if parents teach and model handling feelings with compassion and solving problems with patience and respect.
But what if your children quarrel incessantly? Or if what you see what looks like bullying?
Recent studies have found that bullying between and among siblings is more common than bullying at school, and even more common than parental abuse.
The consequences of sibling bullying or abuse are long-term and include anxiety, depression and difficulty with self-esteem.
What can a parent do?
First, especially if things don’t seem out of hand, focus on strengthening your relationship with each individual child, and then on their relationship with one another.
An ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure.
Preparing children for subsequent births and engaging them in taking on their new role as big brothers and sisters is important.
Unaddressed feelings of dethronement and loss after the birth of a new baby can become land mines in the children’s future relationships.
Be proactive! Read books such as “Siblings Without Rivalry,” by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, and “Peaceful Parents, Happy Siblings,” by Dr. Laura Markham.
Attend workshops offered by your local hospitals, libraries and parenting centers to bolster your confidence.
How do you know if your children have crossed the line from rivalry to bullying?
Dr. Kate Roberts, an expert in the field, says to look for a pervasive pattern where one child dominates the other.
Verbal taunts, name-calling, put-downs and exclusion are warning signs. Most siblings will be kind to one another at least some of the time, for example helping when one is sick, offering a compliment, giving a hug, etc.
Absence of kindness is another cause for concern.
If you notice these warning signs, don’t wait. Chances are the children will not “grow out of it.”
Get support by talking with your pediatrician or a counselor. Early intervention makes a difference and can limit the consequences of sibling bullying, which can last a lifetime.
Lesley Iwinski MD is a Lexington mother of three grown children, a family physician and the founding director of Growing Peaceful Families. She offers classes, workshops and seminars based on the work of Kathryn Kvols, author of Redirecting Children’s Behavior.
Info for Lesley: (859) 333-3053 or www.GrowingPeacefulFamilies.com. E-mail questions for Lesley to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.