Sibling and Peer Aggression

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Sibling and peer relationships figure prominently in children’s and adolescents’ lives.  Although peers are often the focus of studies of aggression and bullying, national studies show that aggression and bullying are more common among siblings than they are peers.

The sibling relationship can serve as a training ground where children learn that bullying others is acceptable and normal way to deal with others and get what they want.  

Studies show that norms of acceptable behavior differ for sibling and peer relationships. Parents tend to view forms of aggression between siblings as not harmful and, in some cases, as good training for management of aggression in other relationships and social situations. Thus, social norms exist that support the expression of sibling aggression. As such, many parents do not try to stop it.

Sibling and peer aggression experiences appear to be linked. Children who bully their peers report the highest frequency of sibling bullying. Studies also show that victimization by a sibling is risk factor for experiencing peer victimization, with about 15% of children and adolescents experiencing both sibling and peer victimization. Further, those children who are chronically victimized by a sibling are at the most risk for peer victimization.  

Children and adolescents victimized by both siblings and peers, rather than by just siblings or peers, report the greatest mental distress (i.e., depression, anxiety, and anger).

Victimization by a sibling or peer is associated with exposure to family adversity, family violence and child maltreatment.