Emotional Education

Sibling Rivalry or Bullying? Discover the Differences

When I first met her at my school, I found her overbearing yet distant. She was overbearing because she liked to dictate students on how they should breathe. And she was distant because she didn’t care if we ever needed her advice or not.

Like my other teachers, she was focused on the academic success of students. But unlike, other teachers, the tools she had for encouraging us towards academic excellence only included taunts, punishments, berating statements, and comparisons. The real result of her teaching methodology was more failures in her class than successes.Like any other high-schooler, I thought that she was a mean human being who found solace in traumatizing others.
But my second encounter with her proved my first opinion about her wrong.
I had the privilege to develop family relations with her maiden family in my adulthood. She was the real sister of my immediate relative. I have to emphasize real because the relation between the two was not at all realistic.

Don’t get me wrong!
Both sisters loved each other, but they did so in their own convoluted ways. The elder sister, my immediate relative, was the bully who controlled her younger sister and created a false dangerous image of the world in her eyes. And the younger one was the victim who, oblivious to her sister’s lies, worshiped her perceived mentor and well-wisher.
The result was an embittered young woman who believed everything had more bad than good.
Their dysfunctional relation started in childhood and continued into their adulthood and took control of younger’s marital, occupational, and social life.
And it also taught a lesson to the elder sister, that she could always get her way whether or not she deserves it.
That understanding of their relationship was my first interaction with the concept of sibling rivalry. You would meet many people who would say which sister, or brother, can think bad of her (his) brother? Maybe these people are being truthful and really haven’t witnessed such a relationship.
But if you are reading this post, chances are that you already believe that such dysfunctions can and do arise.
Another thing which you should know is that this issue is not limited to dysfunctional families or less-than-perfect parenting styles, but can also arise in well-adjusted families. So, if you want to skip this article thinking that your family is mentally healthy so there will be no such issue in your children, don’t.

Sibling Rivalry- An Overview

Sibling rivalry is a healthy practice which teaches children social skills. The precious feeling of empathy, vital life skill of conflict resolution, and treasured reward of self-identity are a few gifts children get from these experiences.
There is a reason that those children who have siblings are more likely to grow up into well-adjusted adults than those children who are only child of their parents. And that reason has a lot to do with healthy sibling rivalry than other family dynamics.
There are various characteristics which define rivalry that is unique to siblings. Let’s consider them.
The continuous invisible tension that surrounds siblings among a family relates to their natural desire to express their identity as independent of their siblings and other family members. This tension is often surrounded by the natural warmth that makes part of healthy sibling relations.
One most prominent factor of these interactions is their short life span. When siblings show rivalry to each other, the actual act of rivalry, the intensity of conflict, and the negative feelings which develop as a result are short-lived. Natural balance and harmony among siblings prevail after the conflict is resolved or forgotten.
Another characteristic is the prevalence of balance. All siblings in the family have something to put in the conflict. Parents cannot single out any one child as the aggressor or the other as aggrieved. All children take turns to test the limits and benefit from the situation.

Sibling Bullying – An Overview

Bullying is a word that activates our emotions negatively. We assume that the act of bullying is also the same: loud and clear. And, most often, this assumption is right but not when we deal with sibling rivalry.
The concept of sibling rivalry has resulted in so many positive developments and we tend to normalize it so much that we become oblivious when it crosses the line and becomes toxic.
For most parents, their children are flawless in thoughts and actions. This belief of flawlessness of children is further emphasized by cultural beliefs that children have a pure heart and well-meaning intentions.
We often forget that children are just little human beings who have interests and identities different from others. And no law states that children cannot exercise unethical manners to achieve their goal. In reality, children are extremely imaginative and creative. This ability makes them resourceful for pursuing their good and bad quests.
But you have to look closely to be sure that your home is free of sibling bullying. This matter cannot be ignored as its effects are far-reaching.
For example, in my previous example, the victim of sibling bullying ended up as a grumpy old teacher who was mean and hurtful to her students.
The bully suffered (because always suffer from their internal drama), the victim suffered, and the more victims were affected and created to spread the negativity.
Timely detection and prevention of sibling bullying is an important step towards raising a healthy society. But how can you do this?
How can you identify bullies in your children?
Look out for the signs.

Conflict-Free Home

No two human beings can live under one roof without friction. We all dream of a friction-less familial life. But a life with healthy differences in opinions supported by positive conflict resolution skills is more attractive.
If any two, or more, of your children, appear to be having a perfectly harmonious relationship, you should be concerned.
If your children are arguing and humanely resolving their conflicts, it is a sign of healthy communication skills. But if there is no mismatch in opinion and the loudest opinion among children remain unchallenged most of the times, it signals the oppression of other children.
At the same time, younger siblings often tend to idolize their elder siblings. Such infatuations portray perfectly healthy relations. But these feelings are temporary. And if one of your children is extending the obsession period, it may signal psychological manipulation from a younger sibling or another graver issue.

Excessive Tension

There is a healthy tension among relations that signal differences in opinions. And then there is unhealthy tension. You might feel unhealthy tension as a thick atmosphere where you wouldn’t like to stay for long.
IF your kids are not enjoying jokes together or are not interested in spending time with each other there can be an underlying issue that needs your attention. At the same time, if there is only one kid who wants to stay out of the company of his other sibling, or siblings, it is a good reason to investigate further.
Kids, being little human beings, look forward towards human interactions. And these interactions are best for ids when they come from family members and siblings.
If a kid is avoiding interactions from a sibling it is a tell-tale sign of difficulty in relation.

Intensity of Fights

Other than the hidden symptoms which you must look for, there are a few tell-tale signs that are obvious indicators that the tension is coming from a family member. First of these is the intensity of fights.
Yes, all children fight, but the extreme aggression and emotional and verbal assault that come with bullying easily give away the fight as bullying.
You would not expect a normal sibling conflict to bring up all the baggage from past fights and conflicts. Normal fights do not every time discuss how parents favored one child more over the other. Yes, the families where such favoritism is a norm, this argument is brought up time and again during conflicts or otherwise, the intensity is low when the tendency of bullying is missing.

Power Imbalance

If one of your kids always wins in the fights or get away with his deeds, it is more likely that he is bullying the other child.
There are circumstances where because of differences in physical and mental strengths one sibling always has more control of the situation over the other. And there are other circumstances where the stronger child is only retaliating with the same level of strength as the other child but because of differences in their strengths, the weaker child loses his ground more easily.
But you should keep in mind that such unintentional harms are just as bad for the mental health of your weaker kid as are the intentional harms caused by a bully. No kid deserves to be threatened by a stronger opponent at his home.

Intentions of the Aggressor

One of the characterizing features of bullying is the intentions of the aggressor. Bullies tend to vent their emotional distress to threaten, assault, dis-empower, and weaken their victims. In the beginning, the assaults and aggression may seem trivial and unintentional but there is a tell-tale sign of intention in later encounters and that sign is repetition.
If it appears that one sibling is continually picking a fight with the other, there is a good chance that he/she is.

Lack of Warmth During and After Fights

Sibling bullying occurs among siblings. And sibling relation is one of the most intimate relations which humans enjoy. The beauty of this relationship means that, in normal circumstances, the siblings are prone to show concern for all the mean statement they make and aggressions they show during and after the conflict.
But that feature relates to healthy siblings. Sibling bullies lack empathy for their victims and don’t express it (or pretend to express it when there is an onlooker).

Wrap Up

It may not appear to be a big deal but sibling bullying can be catastrophic for a family’s emotional healthy. It can interfere with children’s emotional and cognitive development.
At the same time, it is not uncommon or unheard of type of bullying.
Being a parent, we tend to overlook mistakes and wrong intentions of our kids. This ignorance may make us normalize sibling bullying at our home as just sibling rivalry.
This eye-opening article sheds light on differences between the two phenomena so we are more equipped to intervene at the right time.

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