Sibling Rivalry vs. Bullying

My Tweeps were having a discussion on Twitter the other day that really got me thinking. They were talking about how their kids fight so much and talking about whether it was normal for kids to have such a hard time getting along. If you’ve been reading my blog, you know that we’ve had a lot of problems with our youngest son and bullies. So I’m very sensitive to any situation that looks like bullying and to me, sibling rivalry at it’s worst looks a lot like bullying.

Now, I don’t even pretend to be a parenting expert, by any means. Nor do I want to sound like I’m criticizing other Moms for the choices they make in raising their children. I think the most hurtful thing you can do is question other people’s parenting skills. I think we’re all good parents in our own way and we all do the very best we can to raise our children. Instead, I think I’d like to present a bit of a different viewpoint that challenges some of the accepted wisdom out there.

People have always said things like “boys will be boys” or “let kids just be kids” as an excuse for kids who play rough or are mean and hurtful to each other. But I really question that thinking. If we let them, our kids would still be pooping their pants and eating food off the floor too, but as parents, it’s our job to teach them better habits. So, I don’t understand how it’s any different for a child to reach over and whack his little brother or sister, than it would be to do the same action to some random kid on a playground?

In a way, I think it’s almost worse for kids to be mean to their siblings, because there’s nowhere to go to get away from them. They have to live right alongside their attackers all day, every day. I always think of that horrible brother on The Wonder Years who was so mean to the Fred Savage character. He was just horrible to him both physically and emotionally.  What a nightmare it would be so have to someone like that living in your home every day. And the parents were completely oblivious. I never once heard them tell the kid to knock it off.

Kids have so much pressure today, in school, in sports, in every other environment, I really think the home needs to be the one place where they can let their guard down and just relax.  They deserve have just one place to be themselves without constantly being harassed, teased, or even physically abused by their siblings.

Really, I think there’s a very fine line between this kind of behavior and bullying. Usually, its an older child going after a younger one, or a stronger one going after a weaker one – over and over again. They will always be younger or weaker than the sibling, so they really can never win.  This has to produce a terrible feeling of powerlessness. Even if they ask the parent to intervene, they are frequently just called a tattletale, so it really is a no-win situation.

Honestly, I can’t understand why a parent would allow their child to be put in such a position by another child in the family. If a bully at school treated your child so poorly, you’d be screaming for the Principal, wouldn’t you? I think about the boys who have bullied my son so unmercifully over the last few years and I really wonder if this is how their bullying habits took root?  With their own siblings?  It’s hard to know.  

Now stopping the problem is a whole other story, but I think it can be done, even if your kids are die-hard daily fighters. Kids are pretty smart and they catch on quickly to what will and won’t be tolerated. After all, if Bobby was chasing little Susie around with a butcher knife, you’d find a way to put a stop to it pretty quickly. 

It’s all a matter of picking your battles and deciding if it’s worth the effort to help your kids learn to get along with each other. I think it is. If nothing else, I think it would be helpful to them to learn some negotiation skills. It will probably help them later in life when they’re dealing with kids they don’t like, bad teachers or bad bosses.

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  1. I am totally against bullying. I am glad it is being recognized more. I think siblings is going to always bicker, but I think there is a line there somewhere. Most siblings know when to stop because the truth is they love each other. Just my 2cents.

  2. Great post… of course my children bicker…. but I put my foot down with them being MEAN to each other… I was picked on my older sister.. and it still lingers.. my children will never be allowed to do that to each other. Our home needs to be the SAFE..LOVING place – I can’t control what happens outside of the house… but I sure as heck can control what is going on inside.

  3. Great post.

    We’re dealing with some of that right now with our granddaughter and grandson. They’re 3 and 2. It’s tough but we’ve all (their parents especially) been working hard on it.

    Definitely agree that siblings should not be allowed to terrorize each other. I homeschooled my kids so they were together all the time. They definitely fought but they were never scared of each other. It was just normal stuff.

  4. It’s so hard to keep boys from bullying eachother, it happens between my two nephews all the time. Plus my husband has told me many stories of him bullying his younger brothers, maybe it’s just in their blood. Crap.

  5. Children being bullied breaks my heart because it can easily be disguised yet can cause so much damage. I talk with my 6yo about this often to make sure he never bullies and never allows himself to be bullied!!!!

    Thank you for your visit on my SITS day back on 10/29. I am STILL playing catch up!

  6. I agree with you when it gets to the point of bullying- that is never tolerated in our house or anywhere else. That being said I think it is important for my boys to learn how to resolve the conflicts they have with each other because it is good practice for real life- so I do not interfere with their “bickering” most days unless things are getting ugly. I don’t know if that is right or not…just the way that works for us.

  7. We don’t allow bullying in-house. Our son has Asperger’s Syndrome and he gets enough bullying outside of the house – the kids MUST remain respectful of one another. They can disagree and have spats – but NO bullying. I’m firm on that! GREAT post!

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