How to Stop Sibling Bullying Once and For All
When Jon witnessed that his younger brother, Joe, will remain with share his parents all his life, he became irate and confused.
Would Joe share his parents’ attention and love also?
It didn’t take much time for Jon to realize that he will, after all, have a claim on the love and attention of his parents. What was more hurtful was the fact that Joe’s share appeared to be more significant than that of Jon’s.
And, then, his parents expected him to be compassionate towards his brother.
How could they even think of this? How could he be made obligated to be caring and loving to a person who was claiming every asset Jon ever had?
This craziness shouldn’t continue!
But it did!
And Jon was left to deal with this confusion, the treachery his parents had had with him, and his brother’s exceeding demands.
He was rightful in showing his frustration towards this invasion.
So he did!
He did it by hurting the baby physically, throwing away his toys, or trying to deviate parents’ attention as soon as the baby needed them most.
With his age, his animosity only intensified.
His parents, uncles, aunts, and grandparents labeled him as a bully. The label was not unrealistic. But it was hurtful.
Did he deserve this label? He was only demanding his right?
This label only intensified his act.
This sibling bullying effects started weighing down the whole family. So, his parents, fed up from this constant battle, resorted to listen to his point of view with the same quality they were expecting from him, with care. And that was the turning point of all the family dynamics.
If you are unsure of your intervention and its impact on dealing with sibling bullying, contact a family therapist or parent coach. Plus, use these tips to avoid excessive friction before your success in eliminating the whole bullying dynamic from your home.
Care to Listen- First Intervention in Sibling Bullying
The behavior of a bully is, undoubtedly, wrong.
But the viewpoint he wants to express through this behavior is, in most of the cases, just right. As parents, it’s our duty to listen to our children and help them with developing adequate communication skills.
Let them vent out their issues. They need to unload their emotional baggage somewhere. Unfortunately, this somewhere becomes their siblings most often.
If you can give them safe space to express their feelings, they will have better relationship with these emotions and will be able to choose better expressions.
You may not know, but, behind the scenes, even bullies are tired of their emotions. In fact, they are so tired, they want to suppress them. And this suppression of anger and frustration only multiplies these emotions causing them to burst out occasionally.
Help them deal with them. Use right words, expressions, and commitment to make them understand these emotions. So, they are better prepared for dealing with them in their next encounter.
Empowerment of victims of sibling bullying also rely on parent to child communication. They need to feel heard. Validation of their feelings and sibling bullying trauma is just the right way to help them navigate through the situation unscathed.
Working with Bullies
Empower Them for the Phase before Bullying
One of the key strategies to deal with sibling bullying at home is making the bully responsible for their behavior.
But the sense of responsibility without the sense of capability is not going to take your intervention anywhere.
You have to keep in mind that bullying is an outcome of the feeling of helplessness. They don’t have the tools to deal with their emotions or to deal with the perceived unfairness going on at home.
Unless you are ready to give them those tools, not a single intervention you will do will help them create a healthy relationship with their siblings.
The first power you can give them will be of your love and care. You have to tell them that you are with them without judgment and criticism. You are trying to help them not reprimand them.
You will have to prove your words. First and most visible proof will be the unconditional, uninterrupted listening you have extending to them. Second proof will be you genuinely empathizing with their emotions. You can only show empathy with their emotions if you are non-judgmental and understand the stressors impacting them. Third proof will be your words for telling them that they can talk to you when struggling with emotions
Give Them Insight into the Matter
Once they have power of your trust and understanding, you can give make them recognize the burden their actions are creating on the family. Make sure not to overdo it. Being conscious and intellectual kids, they must have understood their actions’ impacts clearly.
Better approach will be to let them think from the perspective of their, bullied, sibling and that of other family members individually. Let them talk! You will be surprised at how knowledgeable they are about emotions of the family around them and also how much they care for their family.
Give Them Appropriate Tools to Deal with Emotions
Next comes the step of empowering them with appropriate action.
What is the thing that makes a bully a bully? It’s lack of control over their emotions and resulting actions. So, if you want to tame a bully, start with giving them right tools to manage emotions and actions.
Start with managing emotions. Why? Just because emotions are the prerequisites of actions.
Simple communication about their emotions will move their expression of emotions from actions towards words.
Ask them to talk to their emotions and ask what they want. They can take up the role of an educator and tell the emotions about right and wrong impacts of their actions and feelings.
Other tools is journaling these emotions. Ask them to frequently reflect on their emotions.
Give them Tools to Mend Behavior
You can offer further help by showing them different alternatives of dealing with their feelings. Some examples are taking voluntary time outs, using a punching pillow to vent out, using writing, painting, drawing, or speaking (think about voice recorder) to externalizing feelings without hurting other people.
Also keep in mind that one best strategy to educate the kids about healthy behaviors around emotions is by modeling them yourself.
You can offer them a stack of colored cards so they can pick the most appropriate color of their emotional state and communicate this state with others, in case they need help with their feelings.
Tell them, that their feelings matter. They deserve to be heard and respected. But these feelings are not an excuse for spreading negative energy around them. They can smoothly and conversationally express their feelings. But they should not transmit these feelings as any form of aggression.
Empower Them to Decide during Bullying
If we investigate the bullies for their actions, their primary excuse appear as they felt helpless in the face of their background issues and feelings.
Don’t debate if that excuse is right or not. It may not be right for us spectators of the abuse.
But for those bullies who are action-takers in these situations do not share our viewpoint. They have their own reality. And in this reality, they are helpless. Period.
We can help them exclude this excuse from their go-to argument over their actions by empowering them with tools to deal with their emotions. Start by defining bullying and move towards setting rules that will prevent the bullying.
Ask them what they think bullying is. Then explain the misunderstandings they have.
Don’t conclude here. The most crucial knowledge which they need about bullying is its signs, especially the signs of its onset.
Explain Onset of a Bullying Episode
How can bullies tell if they are moving into another phase of bullying?
Bullying feels like anger. If the bully feels that his heart is starting to pound in his ears, and he feels tense and hateful towards the victim, he should know that a bullying episode is about to happen.
Tell them about other appearances of bullying: you would remember your hurt and feel jealousy towards victim’s accomplishments. You start to dislike happiness at that time want to prevent that emotion reaching your sibling.
These two impulses of anger or jealousy are often followed by the episodes of aggression.
Ask Them to Remember the Impact
At this full-of-emotions time, the bully doesn’t care about the wellbeing of the people around him. Remember, what’s his motive right now? It’s to sabotage feelings of happiness in others.
Thinking about the hurt their act will cause to others will only intensify their impulse.
But there is one consequence which can prevent them from acting on their impulse. And that consequence is their feelings of regret towards these acts. Care-givers should ensure that these feelings of regret are not turning into feelings of shame. Because the feelings of shame only intensify the negative behavior for which a person is shameful.
Ask them to feel the regret and its associated feelings. How, when last time they regretted their actions, they wanted to make amends for their actions. How they wanted to regain that feeling of being a loving and caring brother to soothe their self-esteem?
Ask them to remember the feelings that accompany the regret when they find themselves ready to bully their siblings.
This reminder will have a huge impact on the bully only if they own the responsibility of their actions. If these bullies know that they could spare themselves from the mental agony they feel after bullying episodes, these reminders will help them act more responsibly.
On the other hand, if these bullies feel themselves helpless in the wake of these episodes, you cannot expect them to act responsibly only by remembering their regret on bullying.
Because, in their head they can’t do anything so why should they even try?
These feelings of responsibility and tools to remember this responsibility will alone create a huge impact on the bully. But you should move towards more concrete actionable steps to make the bullies feel more comfortable. (This comfort will, in the end, translate into fewer aggressive episodes and emotional turmoil for all involved parties.)
Ask them to leave the room where their victim is present. A better approach is to assign both of them separate rooms or spaces where they can go in the face of an impending bullying episode.
Ask them to involve some adult. This is the best intervention technique which most households use in the wake of sibling rivalry and bullying. But in most cases, this offer extends to victim only.
If we look closely, the bully also needs help during an episode of bullying. They want us to protect them from the emotional aggression going on within them. So, be a parent and step in. Help them navigate healthily through their emotions so they know how to do it themselves after a few learning sessions.
Empower Them to Act after Bullying
Impacts of bullying do not end with the end of this act. It continues to haunt the bully and their victim. Severer the haunting, more likely it will be for bullies to repeat the behavior.
Once a bullying episode is over, and intervened, your role as a parent is to help both parties in getting past the trauma.
You can help the bully by letting them express how they are feeling about the episode. If they are feeling hurt because you intervened and didn’t allow them to carry out their negative actions, allow them some time to cool down.
Once they are feeling better and are ready to talk, talk to them so they can re-connect with themselves.
Talk about the Consequences
This talk about the consequences of bullying should remain an ongoing conversation in those households where bullying has resided for some time.
Ask their perspective. How do they believe will other people feel after that bullying behavior?
Ask about the consequences they will bear. Focus on their emotions because other consequences change shape and impact with time.
Use questions to let them investigate seemingly hidden emotions of other people.
Hold Them Accountable
Do you remember the issue that gave birth to sibling bullying at first place?
It was feeling of helplessness. They felt helpless about the division of parents’ love and affection towards them.
So, you have to make them feel in charge of their decisions. That’s the reason, most part of intervention against bullying focuses on listening and empowering instead of telling and demanding.
Imagine yourself hurting your partner, unintentionally. How would you feel afterwards? Wouldn’t you regret your action? Would you feel helpless in controlling your actions?
No imagine that you know that you can help your partner in feeling better. How this knowledge will help your emotions? Will you feel better? Will you still feel helpless? Or would you feel empowered?
Of course, you will feel in control.
Because of their emotions, bullies often can’t see the fact that they can make amends for their actions. In most cases, they don’t feel the need to make amends because they don’t take responsibility of their actions due to perceived helplessness.
By showing them that they are responsible and by showing that they are in charge of connecting with their victim in a healthy way, we can empower them against their inner demons.
Use appropriate questions and suggestion to guide them towards the insight that they should do something about the bad feelings their victims are feeling.
Then help them in thinking of the best way with which they can compensate the victim for their bad feelings.
Persistence is the key to healthy family dynamics and vibrant relations with self and others.
You will witness long-lasting and positive results of any communication method with your kids if you remain committed to positively disciplining them throughout their childhood.
Remain connected to them and help them explore their positive side whenever you see them expressing their negative aspects.
Think highly of them and witness them transforming into their best selves.
Working with Victims
Empower Them before Bullying
We have talked how bullies feel helpless and unable to control their situations and behavior. We all know that this phenomenon is even more obvious among victims of bullying.
These victims feel that they have no control over the actions of their bullies and they cannot defend themselves in any way.
Although it’s true that they are not responsible for the aggression shown by their bullies, they can still be empowered to claim some of the control of what happens to them.
First of all, the word victim should not be synonymous to the word helpless and/or humiliated.
When a kid, or adult, is bullied, he thinks that all the by-standers agree with this abuse.
Being a parent, it’s our duty to tell them that they are not alone. Without taking side, you have to establish and maintain the balance which bully is so desperately trying to destroy.
Although the best way to diffuse the verbal abuse from the bully is to prevent him from throwing this abuse at victim, you can also control the matter by asking him to feel how you, and other family members, feel about him.
You need to be open and supportive of victims, general, efforts and achievements in life.
In this way, when your child is feeling low, you can ask him if he is aligning with his bully’s point of view or not. Ask him to feel the proud feelings other family members feel for him.
Always remember! The deepest scars a victim bears in a childhood bullying scenario doesn’t come from physical violence, it comes from verbal and emotional bullying by siblings. So, the first step of intervention should also focus on these scars.
Self-Esteem and Self-Efficacy
You need to explain to the kid that if they are being picked on by a particular perpetrator, it doesn’t mean that they are calling for it. They should understand that not all the lies which bullies are telling them are true. We, as parents, should tell them that their bullies, in most cases, are only creating lies against them to disempower them.
We can ask them to remember that they can and they have to resist bullies’ intentions by keeping their head and high and not internalizing their blows.
Tell them what bullying is. Label the aggression as bullying. These kids deserve to know the reason of injustice done to them.
Allow them to feel compassion towards their bullies. This feeling comes especially easily for the siblings because of the close familial bond they share. You can help them feel empathy towards their bully sibling by showing them how do these bullies think.
Make sure, you are not imposing these feelings unto them. The goal is to let them know the cognitive pattern behind bullying. It will show them the problem doesn’t lie with them rather it lies with their bully.
Help Them Navigate Their Emotions
So, you have supported them by protecting them from incoming blows on self-esteem and feeling of belongingness.
Now this empowerment process should move ahead and help the victims in dealing with their emotions healthily. Help them name the emotions they feel towards the bully and bully’s actions.
Ask their thoughts about the bullying behavior. Let them vent.
Ask them to journal their emotions throughout the day. And highlight those feelings which are supportive and kind among their recorded emotions.
Ask them to use their expressive talents: talking, coloring, drawing, writing, or singing to release these emotions.
Empower Them for the Phase of Bullying
Educate about Signs of Aggression
Tell them that bullying starts as soon as an argument or conflict escalates to name calling, raised voices, or threats. Tell them that they don’t deserve to bear any of these, covert forms of abuse and that they need to tell-off the bully and tell the adult in charge.
Also tell them to not shy away from showing disagreement only because of fear of bully’s aggression.
On the other hand, if they are too afraid of repercussion, teach them to express their opinion in the presence of adults.
Ask the victim child to move away from the bully as soon as they fear that an aggressive episode is on its way. They should immediately talk to an adult so he could diffuse the situation.
Work on Physical Strength
Empower them with tools and techniques to defend themselves.
You can get them enrolled in well-thought-out program of self-defense and street fighting from an early age. And it may cause a significant difference in how they approach to bullying without getting traumatized.
Work on Emotional Intelligence
Even if the victim manages to avoid bullying, he will still feel traumatized because of the possibilities of bullying.
Emotions may become a huge problem for these kids, especially when they are left alone with these emotions.
Teach your kid to remain grounded in case they feel lonely. Ask them to reconnect with who they are other their relationship to the bully. Ask them to remember their positive relationship with other family members.
If you have already worked on their self-esteem, they will not suffer much from these threats.
Empower Them for Post-Bullying Phase
Communication of love, acceptance, and appreciation is all they need.
In case the kid fails to get out of the situation at time, you need medical help for bruises. But in the long-term, the memory of the event is what resides with the kid.
Help them regain the sense of safety. The complexity within sibling bullying lies in the fact that most families can’t afford to separate the two siblings for long.
But they can ensure to keep a close eye at the interaction between the two and keep both enwrapped in required love and care. Plus, a little help from their schools and care-givers can also make a lot of difference.
Bullying is troublesome in all its shapes and forms. Sibling bullying, however, gains less attention than it deserves because of potential impact its recognition can have on a family.
But parents should understand that sibling bullying long-term effects can cause huge turmoil for the family if it is left untreated. You can hide behind the motto of not knowing sibling dynamics right now. But in the future, once they are grown-ups, you will regret your decision to ignore this issue.
The gap in the family will be too wide by then for you to bridge.
And don’t forget the loss both of these, and other sibling, will bear.
Step in now to save their, and whole family’s, emotional health.