When we hear the word, “bullying,” most often we picture the schoolyard bully who picks on other students at recess or in the hallways. Often, we don’t think about siblings as bullies, or sibling scuffles may be written off as typical behavior or rivalry. In actuality, being bullied by a sibling can be just as impactful as peer bullying; when both are present, the effect on mental health is even more severe.
New research has found that children who are bullied by their siblings have more mental health issues in adulthood. Of the children in the study, approximately one-third had been bullied by a brother or sister. Of this group, 15% were later diagnosed with depression in early adulthood, 16% engaged in self-harm, and nearly 36% experienced suicidal ideation. When children were bullied by both siblings and peers at school, their risks of developing depression and suicidal ideation doubled. This is likely because of the environment created by bullying, in which neither home nor school feels like a safe space, leading to a sense of hopelessness and desperation.
With this new information, it is important for parents to keep aware of their children’s interactions and intervene when sibling behavior crosses a line. While it may be tempting to minimize these behaviors as “typical sibling rivalry” or “boys will be boys,” parents may inadvertently make a bad situation worse. As always, when there is any inkling that a child’s mental health may be suffering, it is important to consult with a pediatrician or mental health professional.