Relation Between Bullying Among Siblings and
my brother is teasing me!” “Dad,
my brother won’t let me use the computer!”
Fights and quarrels are quite
frequent in each family and one of the main
efforts of parents is to maintain peace between
siblings. Do these fights matter? How much can
these disputes and conflicts help siblings to
learn skills in social relationships or, alternatively,
enhance aggression and negative behaviors such
Having a sibling is frequently
considered a resource for children’s development
(1, 2). In fact, positive interactions as well
as conflicts and disputes with a brother or
a sister provide a natural context in which
children can learn mediations skills, respect
of the others, empathy and caring in a relatively
protected environment (1). However, siblings’
relationships also have the potential to affect
children’s development negatively. Especially
if younger children have older brothers, they
can experience a higher level of aggression
and assimilate and transfer this problematic
behaviour into the school context (3).
Sibling relationships are characterized
by a balance of affect and conflict; if conflict
is mitigated by affect, the relationship can
provide a positive context for learning social
skills and for understanding other people’s
emotions and perspectives. In contrast, children
who experience high levels of conflict and low
levels of affect are more likely to show social
problems in the peer context (1, 4). On the
whole, a clear association emerges between sibling
experiences and peer problems outside the family.
If the relation is positive, children can benefit
from sibling experiences; if the relationship
is aggressive, such behaviour may also turn
up outside of the home (4, 5).
Is this true also for bullying?
Can we call the frequent conflicts and disputes
between siblings bullying? Comparing sibling
conflicts and school bullying we find common
elements but also specific differences. To be
considered bullying in either context, the interactions
nature - the bully deliberately brings
damage to the victim;
- the attacks are repeated over time;
of power – often the bully is
stronger than the victim, who is not able to
Beyond these common elements.
bullying behaviours in the home and school context
do differ in one important regard – in
the school context, bullying is recognized as
social in nature, with such behaviour often
directed to the group, through the public attack
on the victim. The dynamic between siblings
is more direct and typically does not involve
a larger group of witnesses. Furthermore, quarrels
and fighting at home may be more common and
therefore less disapproved than in school context.
We recently carried out a study
of 195 children, aged 10-12 years, all of whom
had a brother or sister who were up to 4 years
younger or older than themselves (6). We found
that the presence of bullying and victimization
is as strong among siblings as among peers.
The problem seems even more worrisome at home.
•Children reported higher
bullying and victimization at home and higher
victimization by older brothers. Respectively,
38.4% and 34.4.% reported bullying and victimization
experiences at home, with particularly higher
levels of bullying boys (48.9%). By contrast,
lower levels of bullying and victimization were
reported in school: 17.1% and 23.2%, respectively.
Thus, we can assume that at home it is more
common to reciprocate attacks and fights among
siblings, as the relationship is more intimate
and less affected by the risk of loosing the
relationships, as compared to interactions with
peers or within friendships.
•We also found a significant
correlation between sibling and school bullying
and victimization, in that some children who
were bullies or victims at home seemed to maintain
their roles at school.
•With regard to gender
differences, we found that children were victimized
more often by brothers than by sisters. When
birth order was considered, together with gender,
we found that children were victimized more
often by older brothers than by older sisters
or by younger brothers and sisters. Bullying
at home was more often perpetrated by older
brothers who often provided their younger brothers
and sisters with modeling and training in the
use of social behaviours, including aggression.
In relation to bullying behavior,
Patterson (3) underlined how older siblings
tend to victimize younger siblings and how the
more submissive behavior of younger siblings
can reinforce older siblings’ attacks.
However, at the same time, younger siblings’
exposure to aggression promotes aggressive behavior
that often generalizes to children’s behavior
with their peers.
We can also ask ourselves why
children develop a bullying relation with their
siblings. According to our research, the characteristics
associated with bullying siblings varies for
boys and girls. For boys, personal characteristics,
particularly emotional instability, and the
degree of conflicts can account for siblings
tendency to bully each other more. For girls,
a low level of empathy and caring between the
two siblings can be a significant predictor
of bullying (6).
•pay more attention to
•try to mediate and to
prevent high levels of conflict, especially
if they have older sons,
•mediate especially when
children are more impulsive and irritable, or
•if their relationships
appear negative and full of conflict.
In conclusion, our research
indicates that siblings relationships can, in
some cases, serve as a “training ground”
for bullying, deviancy and aggression through
social learning processes or behavioral patterns
that can be reinforced across contexts. In order
to prevent and reduce sibling bullying.
School teachers, on the other
hand, will need to adopt a multi-contextual
approach to the problem, a “family –
school” focus to understand bullying and
to contrast its diffusion. Bullying starts at
an early age and greater efforts should be made
to prevent and to combat its growth both at
home and in school contexts.
1. Brody G. H.
(2004). Siblings’ direct and indirect
contributions to child development. Current
Directions in Psychological Science, 13,3,124-126.
2. Dunn, J. (1988).
Sibling influences on childhood development.
Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry,
G. R. (1986). The contribution of siblings to
training for fighting. A microsocial analysis.
In D. Olweus, J. Block & M. Radke-Yarrow
(Eds.). The development of antisocial and prosocial
behavior (pp. 235-261). New York: Academic Press
4. Bank, L., Burraston,
B., & Snyder, J. (2004). Sibling conflict
and ineffective parenting as predictors of adolescent
boys’ antisocial behavior and peer difficulties:
Additive and interactional effects. Journal
of Research on Adolescence, 14, 99–125.
5. Pike, A, Coldwell,
J., & Dunn, J. F. (2005). Sibling relationships
in early/middle childhood: Links with individual
adjustment. Journal of Family Psychology, 19,
6. Menesini E.,
Camodeca M., Nocentini A. (2008) Bullying among
siblings: the role of relational and personality
variables. British Journal Of Developmental