Recognizing a bully in the family and minimizing the risk

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LANSING, MI (WILX) - Jealousy, competition, and fighting are a part of growing up with brothers and sisters. But in some cases, conflict between siblings is aggressive and can be harmful. How do you know when one child is crossing the line?

Brothers playfully fight on a couch (Credit: Ivanhoe Broadcast News)

"It's about intentional harm doing," said Dieter Wolke, PhD Developmental Psychologist University of Warwick, UK. "You actually want to harm someone to get a reaction. It's about dominance. It's repeated."

Dieter Wolke studies bullying and its effects at home and school. He looked at research from 14,000 kids over a 20-year span, starting when their moms were pregnant, and found a clear relationship between home and school.

"If you are a bully at home and bully your sibling, you are three times more likely to also bully children outside," said Wolke.

Wolke also says those who were victims of bullying at home were at twice the risk of developing depression, anxiety, and self-harm. Meanwhile, bullies were triple the risk of developing mental health problems, even as serious as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

Parents often have no idea of the severity of the problem.

"A lot of sibling bullying activity actually happens behind closed doors," said Wolke.

Wolke says if parents suspect bullying, don't trivialize it. Take steps to intervene.

He also suggests being proactive as soon as a second child is born. Integrate the first born into the care of the second born. Make it clear to the oldest that both children have different needs, but mom and dad still have enough time for both.

These are steps that could help build strong sibling bonds for life.

The social scientists also found that first-born boys are more likely to be the bullies at home. Wolke says sibling bullying is about the loss of resources; when a second child is born, parents have half the time, and half the money to spend. The oldest is reacting to those changes.

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