Bullying Among Siblings Is As Harmful As Peer Aggression [STUDY]

By iScienceTimes Staff on June 17, 2013 12:57 PM EDT

bullying
A study published in Pediatrics claims that bullying among siblings leads to depression and mental anguish in kids. (Photo: Flickr: upsand)

Bullying among siblings can lead to depression and anxiety symptoms, a new study shows.

In a survey of 3,600 children and teens, researchers asked whether the kids had experienced things such as assault, property damage or name calling and ostracism from their siblings.

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The research team, from the University of New Hampshire, found that those bullied by siblings did experience mental distress as a result. Even mild bullying can cause anguish for bullied siblings.

Mild physical assaultb -- a punch in the arm, for instance -- affected children under the age of 9 the most severely, with that group reporting higher levels of distress than children in the 10 to 17 range.

"Historically, sibling aggression has been dismissed as normal," said lead researcher Corinna Jenkins Tucker of the University of New Hampshire. "It's been seen as benign, or even good for kids because it teaches them something about dealing with the world."

But in fact, said Tucker, "sibling aggression is linked to worse mental health (for the victim), and in some cases it's similar to what you find for peer aggression."

Among the 3,600 children interviewed, 32 percent said that a sibling had assaulted or taunted them within the past year. 8 percent of the children surveyed said they had experienced more than one type of bullying at the hands of their siblings.

"I thought it was fascinating that the sheer number of kids who felt they were bullied in their household -- 30-33 percent -- that's one out of every three kids," said Steven Pastyrnak from Helen DeVos Children's Hospital in Grand Rapids, Mich., who wasn't involved in the study.

"It's mind-boggling to know how many kids that are actually feeling that they're being bullied within their own households," Pastyrnak said. "That really does have a large impact on the emotional health of our kids."

Dr. Robin Mallett, a child and adolescent psychiatrist of the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, told ABC News that parents could help make sure siblings are not bullying one another by following these rules:

Establish values and rules: Bullying is not tolerated;

Don't exhibit aggressive behavior yourself, particularly when your children are around;

Reward positive behavior and kindness between siblings;

Acknowledge and praise individual traits of each child;

Do not "play favorites" among your children;

Take time to build the self-esteem of each child;

Give your children time apart during conflicts to defuse situations

The findings were published in the June 17 issue of the journal Pediatrics. 

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