Is it Sibling Rivalry? Or an “In-House” Bully?

When brothers Nate and Joel go at it at home, and there’s hitting and yelling, is it just to be expected?  Or is it time to step in?  Particularly when one child is always the aggressor,  the answer is “Yes.”  An article in the Chicago Tribune interviewed author and psychoanalyst Jeanne Safer about her work with patients who are carrying mental and emotional (sometimes even physical) scars from such childhood  bullying.  She says, “You’re bullied in your safe haven, in your bedroom, at the dinner table, in the backyard, when your friends come over.  This is a problem hiding in plain sight.”  The Tribune article cites a recent study that ties sibling aggression to “significantly worse” mental health in kids who experience this type of familial bullying.   One thing Safer says when urging parents to have a no tolerance policy, is that “Parents need to tell the abused child, ‘You do not have to tolerate this, and I will help you defend yourself.  I will get your brother or sister professional help, and I will not permit them to harm you.'”  Parents who tolerate abuse, thinking that kids will toughen up, or work it out, are setting up both of their kids to suffer later.  Your bullied child needs you to go to bat for him or her, and your child who bullies needs to learn now to change, rather than become an adult who continues to bully.