'Sibling bullying'; New study says it can leave serious scars

Maggie Vespa

Photo: Video by kgun9.com

'Sibling bullying'; New study says it can leave serious scars

CREATED Jun. 17, 2013

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - It is one little word with some big firepower: bullying.

And as if worrying about your kids' safety during the school year isn't enough, now it seems there is a new threat that hits way closer to home.
Ah, siblings.
They can be your best friend or your worst enemy, and no one knows that better than Ehrin and Emma Watkins.
"Be quiet, Ehrin," said Emma, as he tickled her.
The two are 18 months apart.  Ehrin is older.  Can you tell?
"He was being rude by trying to push me off the trampoline," said Emma.
"No I wasn't!" yelled Ehrin.
Sounds like typical brother-sister stuff, right?
Well, researchers say, maybe it shouldn't be.
A new study out this week shows that 'sibling bullying' can leave just as deep of a scar on a child's mental health as 'peer bullying', causing anxiety, depression and other issues.
"Violence in any form, whether it comes from a loved one or a stranger is damaging," said violence prevention expert, Dr. Dennis Embry.
"And in some ways, if it's coming from someone that you know well and that you cannot escape from, such as a sibling or a spouse, those things do cause chronic harm," he said.
Sounds reasonable.
But wait.  How can such classic child's play be harmful?
Embry says the key lies in that key word: bullying.
"Sibling bullying is a chronic thing where people are constantly putting down and controlling and manipulating a sibling," he said.
In other words, bickering over the trampoline or who won on Wii don't qualify, something Michelle Watkins knew already.
"They share a respect for one another, a compassion and genuine respect for one another that makes us feel like ok, as parents, we've done the right thing," she said.
If you worry your kids are bullying each other, Dr. Embry says one key is getting them to work together through 'group rewards'.     
That means rewarding them equally for not fighting.
Dr. Embry also advises getting kids used to 'losing', meaning encouraging play with other children at an early age.  He says those experiences cultivate self-control and empathy.
Finally, he says, make sure kids eat healthy and get enough sleep.  It sounds simple, but he says these routines make kids more emotionally stable.