Sibling Aggression As Bad As Bullying
June 17, 2013

Sibling Aggression Just As Harmful As Bullying, Says Study

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

As most people with siblings can attest, growing up with brothers or sisters can sometimes lead to arguments or full-on fights over everything from a favorite toy to casual insults.

While these incidents are often dismissed as ℠character-building,´ a new study from the University of New Hampshire found that sibling aggression can be just as stressful for a young child or adolescent as bullying from an unrelated peer.

The study included almost 3,600 children ages 17 and under with at least one sibling living in the same household. Phone interviews with the children focused on being subjected to four different types of sibling aggression: mild physical assault, severe physical assault, property aggression, and psychological aggression. “¯A parent or caregiver answered interview questions for children under nine.

The researchers also culled data from The National Survey of Children's Exposure to Violence to reach their findings, which were published in the journal Pediatrics.

"For all types of sibling aggression, we found that being the victim was linked to lower well-being for both children and adolescents," lead author Corinna Jenkins Tucker, an associate professor of family studies at UNH, told USA Today.

"Even kids who reported just one instance had more mental health distress," she added.

The study, one of the first to look at sibling aggression on this scale, found that 32 percent of children interviewed reported being a victim of one type of sibling aggression in the past year. Out of this group the reported mental health distress for children who experienced mild physical assault from their sibling in the 1 month to 9 years old group was more severe than for adolescents ages 10 to 17. However, both age groups were similarly stressed by psychological or property aggression from their brothers or sisters.

The researchers concluded that psychological and physical aggression from siblings and peers have different effects on a victim´s mental health. However, those experiencing property and psychological aggression felt the same amount of stress, regardless of who the perpetrator was.

According to Tucker, the research showed that parents should regard sibling aggression as a serious factor when considering their child´s mental health.

"If siblings hit each other, there's a much different reaction than if that happened between peers," she said. "It's often dismissed, seen as something that's normal or harmless. Some parents even think it's beneficial, as good training for dealing with conflict and aggression in other relationships."

The study authors suggested that pediatricians advise parents of their findings at office visits. They also said that parent education programs should emphasize the seriousness of sibling aggression and teach approaches for handling sibling conflicts.

Nicole Campione-Barr, a family relationships expert at the University of Missouri, told USA Today that sibling violence or aggression“¯“is something we really need to be aware of.”

A major trouble sign is when aggression is "repeatedly being done in one direction," making one sibling “consistently the victim and the other is constantly the perpetrator," said Campione-Barr, who was not involved in the study. "That is akin to what we see in bullying."