06/19/2013 12:17 pm ET Updated Aug 19, 2013

The Problems With Sibling Aggression

Up until this point, professionals and parents have generally thought of peer aggression as being significantly worse than sibling aggression. Kids will be kids and brothers and sisters will fight has been the way that we have tended to think. Well, it's time to re-think things. A study in the July issue of Pediatrics shakes up this belief with its fascinating results.

Corinna Jenkins Tucker, an associate professor of family studies at the University of New Hampshire, and her colleagues conducted a large scale study based on data compiled from a national sample of 3,599 children from the ages of one month to 17-years-old. For the younger kids, those who were 9-years-old or younger, parents provided answers. Each of these children had at least one sibling who lived in the same home. The study looked at four types of bullying between siblings including:

1. Mild Physical Assault (being hurt physically but no weapon used and no resulting injury)

2. Major Physical Assault (with a weapon or an injury)

3. Property Aggression (Including breaking a siblings' possessions or stealing)


4. Psychological Aggression (saying things that result in a sibling feeling excluded, frightened or badly)

The study authors found that sibling aggression in all forms or should we call it sibling bullying resulted in anxiety, depression and anger which are similar to the effects of peer bullying. So simply because one type of bullying takes place in the home with relatives and the other type takes place in schools, school buses, and on social media does not mean that they should be treated as different sorts of problems.

The implications of these findings for parents are many, including:

1. Do not assume that fighting between your kids is somehow healthy and will teach them how to be stronger individuals.

2. If you notice fighting between your kids you may want to separate them and make sure that they have their own space to retreat to.

3. Consider rewarding and offering an incentive for kind behavior between the kids.

4. Look at what you and your partner may be modeling for the kids.

5. Do not get involved in the Blame Game. It will just perpetuate the fighting.


6. Have clear rules in your home about what is acceptable behavior and what is not.

For the KIDS:

1. Do not assume that your brother or sister knows that you are just teasing. Words can hurt very badly.

2. If you have the urge to harm a sibling speak to someone quickly.

3. Speak to a trusted adult if you are experiencing harm in your home.

4. You don't need to hang around with a sibling if things are starting to deteriorate. Sometimes separation is a good thing.

5. Winning an argument or a fight is not necessarily a good thing.


6. Learn about compassion and kindness and practice it at home.

We are on to a new way to think about what is going on in our homes. If our kids seem upset then we need to look both at what is going on inside and outside the home to determine what the triggers are.