Teasing and fights between brothers and sisters may seem like a normal part of childhood, but for some kids the bullying can be associated with depression and anxiety, according to a new study published in Pediatrics.

Bullying has been a hot topic as of late, but bullying amongst siblings has often gone unnoticed or defined as “normal”. Generally, parents seem to tolerate siblings bullying each other, even when they would not tolerate it among peers.

Lead researcher, Corinna Jenkins Tucker, an associate professor of family studies at the University of New Hampshire, said:

“Historically, sibling aggression has been dismissed as normal. It’s been seen as benign, or even good for kids because it teaches them something about dealing with the world.”

Researchers from the University of New Hampshire interviewed over 3,500 children aged 1 month to 17 years, or their parents about different measures of aggression exhibited by siblings and peers as part of the National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence.

They examined the range and levels of sibling aggression endured by the interviewees, observing measures such as:

  • physical assault with and without a weapon or injury
  • stealing something from the child with or without force
  • breaking siblings’ belongings on purpose
  • saying things to make the child feel bad, scared, or unwanted

Additionally, the mental health of each participant was evaluated.

Outcomes revealed that sibling aggression during the previous 12 months was linked to significantly worse mental health for both teens and children. Distress was seen for children and teens who experienced severe and mild forms of sibling aggression.

One-third of kids said they were the victim of one type of sibling bullying: physical; verbal abuse, like name-calling; or having belongings taken or damaged.

The data also showed that when comparing peer versus sibling aggression as potentially dangerous, each independently predicted increased mental distress.

The authors concluded that pediatricians, the public, and parents should treat aggression as possibly harmful and not consider it as normal, unimportant, or even advantageous, and this message should be included in education for parents.

Previous research has shown that siblings who learn to get along would benefit from healthy sibling relationships by having improved future health and well-being.

Written by Kelly Fitzgerald