We’ve all seen examples of bullying at school and on the streets. Some of our children have experienced it firsthand. One youngster attacks another and an audience gathers. One girl or boy is suddenly jumped on by a swarm of youngsters. A child is tormented mercilessly in person or online. Many situations are caught on cell-phone cameras and posted on YouTube as entertainment and end up on Fox and CNN. These attacks can be ignited by something as trite as name-calling or as disturbing as fulfilling a rite of passage for acceptance into a group. We have all been shaken by the occasional report of a young person taking his or her own life because of vicious and relentless bullying.
The home as a training ground
Research conducted by Ersilia Menesini, Ph.D., Department of Psychology at the University of Florence (Italy), reveals that the relationships between brothers and sisters in a family can serve as a “training ground for bullying, deviancy and aggression through social learning processes or behavioral patterns that can be reinforced across contexts.” In other words, the way siblings treat one another at home often carries over to how those same kids interact with their peers. That behavioral
The same roles leave home
If siblings get along at home and interact with some sense of respect and kindness, it is more likely they will mix well in social settings. If they don’t and are, instead, combative, they may be bullies or victims at school. Children often maintain their home roles outside the home, Menesini points out.
Ah, those older brothers
A study by the professor indicated that bullying and victimization is as strong among siblings as among peers. Older brothers, more so than older sisters, are the culprits at home, according to the study. Because home provides a more intimate environment, however, younger victims are more likely to fight back at home than in school. “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 losing the relationships, as compared to interactions with peers or within friendships.”
What parents can do
Bullying can happen to anyone, perpetrated by boys and girls alike. Parents need to pay attention to the actions and interactions of their children. Home is the training ground where behaviors can be influenced and altered through modeling, teaching, and perhaps a little preaching.
Menesini suggests that parents need to:
• pay close attention to sibling relationships;
• serve as a mediator to prevent a conflict from escalating; and
• get involved in conversations when relationships between children seem negative and combative.
We’ll add one more to the list. Parents must monitor their own behavior and model a high standard of positive social interaction and civility.