Bullying Amongst Siblings
I have a problem and I’d like to explain it in the hope that I can get some feedback. There are times when I feel like I may be stepping in to paranoid parent territory and it takes an outsider to guide me back. I’m not sure if this is one of those moments, so here goes…
Sometime ago I wrote a blog piece, called Childhood Aggression, highlighting my concerns about my eldest daughter (who’s 9) and her behaviour towards her two younger siblings. My attitude has leaned towards being uncomfortable when the children don’t get on, but realising that it is normal for siblings to bicker. But there are occasions when my daughter is so mean to her younger sister that it borders on bullying. By this I mean that she finds pleasure in making fun of her in front of her friends, whilst encouraging these friends to join her, she likes to take her younger brother off and make a point of deliberately leaving her sister out and she often calls her ‘stupid’ or ‘ugly’ with a malice that makes me cringe. These are just a few example, but the result is that my younger daughter is often left in tears and has asked me numerous times why her sister doesn’t like her.
I have resigned myself to the fact that it is just that, my eldest does not like her younger sister and perhaps she never will. But that doesn’t mean she has to be horrible to her, and I have had to speak to her on numerous occasions about her attitude to try and make her see what it would be like to step in to her sister’s shoes and be treated this way.
This is how I have been dealing with the situation, well trying to anyway, and I’m not sure it is having much of an effect. Now comes the paranoid parent bit.I read an article the other day from NYTimes.com called ‘When the Bully is a Sibling’ which highlights new research suggesting that the psychological damage inflicted by siblings can be as damaging as that caused by bullies at school. We’re not talking your everyday kind of spats that occur but more chronic physical or verbal abuse directed at one sibling or another. It got me thinking, am I raising a bully? Is my other daughter going to suffer from anxiety problems because of this? Should I be doing more?
I have never had any trouble with my daughter at school. Her teachers say she is a lovely girl and is well respected by her peers. But I do know that she has confidence issues and there are always some kind of ‘problems’ in the playground between her and the other girls in her class that lead to anxieties on her part in terms of friendship circles. I have often thought that she takes this out on her younger sister. At home she is confident, she is the eldest and the one who is ‘in charge’.
My younger daughter has always been a sensitive girl who will cry at anything. She struggles with these emotions. On the one hand she is highly empathetic towards others and on the other she doesn’t know how to handle conflict or anything negative. Because she doesn’t have a nasty bone in her body, she won’t recognise that in anyone else either, which means she is an easy target. She can be laughed at or made fun of without her even knowing. I’ve alway thought that her nature might lead her to be bullied at school one day and I guess it’s why I’m so paranoid about it. I have tried to explain this to my nine year old. That it is our job to look out for each other as a family, to make sure that we stick together and protect each other. I realise that she is reacting towards these traits of her sister’s in the way that I most feared and so I have tried to explain this to her, to make her see that her sister is vulnerable because of her nature. I want her to realise that we need to protect her and look out for her because that’s what families should do. I don’t expect that they will ever be really close or have that much in common, but I’m hoping that at least she can start to accept her sister for what she is and learn to treat her with a bit more respect. If not, I don’t know how I am going to make her see how hurtful she is being by the way she behaves or to get through to her how much it affects her sister.
I guess there are no right or wrong answers here, but any advice would be most appreciated.