How Sibling Relationships Can Impact Bullying

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Sibling relationships are one of the most complicated—yet enduring—relationships in a person's life. Long after the parents are gone, siblings still have one another to lean on along with lots of memories to share.

Although these relationships are sometimes fraught with frustrations, jealousy, and competitiveness, they may also represent the strongest and most loyal people in a person's life. But, can these sibling relationships prevent bullying?

While there is limited research on how much of an impact a strong sibling bond will have on bullying prevention, most scientists theorize that having siblings influences a child's adjustment and development as much as parenting does.

Research also suggests that healthy sibling bonds—ones that are characterized by warmth, closeness, and problem-solving—can be instrumental in helping siblings overcome and heal from bullying experiences. And regardless of the experience growing up—good or bad—the effects of sibling bonds echo throughout the rest of their lives.

The Impact of Healthy Sibling Relationships

Like all human relationships, sibling relationships vary widely. Some siblings cannot imagine life without one another and others dread being in the same room together. Most people, though, are probably somewhere in the middle—with days when they are thankful for one another and days when they cannot stand to be near one another.

But no matter where kids fall on the sibling relationship spectrum, there are some ways in which healthy sibling relationships not only protect kids from the consequences of bullying, but also provide the support they need to overcome the pain bullying can cause. Here is a closer look at how strong sibling bonds can impact bullying overall.

You Learn How to Interact With Others

For young children, interacting on a daily basis with their siblings serves a natural laboratory for learning about how to communicate and relate with other people.

Through their siblings, they discover how to talk with others, manage disagreements, compromise when needed, negotiate for what they want, and regulate their emotions in socially-acceptable ways. They also learn how to navigate a variety of moods from other people as well and deal with difficult situations.

All of these interactions not only prepare them for life outside of the family but also equip them with the skills they need if they meet bullies at school. Kids who are confident and have experience dealing with difficult situations are more likely to deflect comments from bullies.

They Make Kids More Selfless

When kids grow up with siblings, they learn that the world does not revolve around them. They have to share everything from the bathroom to the television remote, which requires communication and compromise.

Additionally, growing up with siblings teaches kids how to share, take turns, and to put others before them. When this happens, kids are less likely to feel entitled and also less likely to engage in bullying. Instead, they negotiate and compromise with peers rather than being demanding and manipulative.

They Teach Empathy

When there are two or more kids growing up together in the close quarters of a home, this gives them insights into other people's experiences that they might not have individually.

For instance, if one sibling is cut from a sports team, the other siblings see the hurt, pain, and frustration that their brother or sister is experiencing. Consequently, later when a friend experiences something similar they can empathize with what they are going through. Likewise, when one sibling experiences bullying, the other sibling witnesses the impact firsthand.

So, not only are they more likely to empathize with a friend in a similar situation, but this experience also could act as a deterrent from engaging in bullying because they will grasp the hurt it causes.

They Provide a Built-In Support System

Although sibling relationships can provide a protective element and help prevent bullying, siblings can still be targeted by bullies. When this happens, having a solid sibling bond can go a long way in helping siblings cope with and heal from bullying.

Even in adulthood, siblings can serve as a source of comfort when things don't go as planned. Additionally, some evidence suggests that when siblings face adversity like bullying, divorce, or death, they become closer and function more as a team. So, when one sibling experiences bullying it could result in a tighter connection.

You Receive Honest Input

Whether it is an opinion about a friend or advice about a hairstyle, siblings can count on one another for brutally honest opinions. And while this type of uncensored communication can be annoying at times, it also can serve as a protective layer in bullying prevention.

Often, siblings are able to see warning signs in unhealthy friendships or abusive dating relationships. They can pinpoint frenemies and abusive partners with ease and often have no qualms about warning their brother or sister. Additionally, older siblings can provide useful advice on how to avoid bullying hot spots at school as well as which students should be avoided.

You Feel Supported and Loved Unconditionally

To many kids, nothing is worse than experiencing bullying. But siblings often provide the support and love they need to heal.

In fact, one study found that 89% of siblings felt more positive after talking with their brother or sister about their bullying experiences. Additionally, 71% of the siblings in return disclosed their own bullying experiences or the situations they had witnessed.

When kids who have been bullied know that someone loves them and supports them no matter what, it helps them cope with the bullying much more effectively. Few people know as much about them as their sibling.

So, if their brother or sister is supportive and communicates that the bullying they experienced was wrong, they are more likely to believe that anything that was said about them has no validity.

Consequences of Unhealthy Sibling Relationships

Even though good sibling relationships are the norm, difficult sibling relationships happen and can have lasting consequences. In fact, unhealthy sibling relationships that are filled with conflict, excessive rivalry, abuse, or violence, can not only lead to bullying but also can interfere with development.

Children also learn unhealthy coping mechanisms like coercion, manipulation, and relational aggression. And they may experience dating violence, have unhealthy friendships, and experience depression.

Unhealthy sibling relationships also increase the likelihood that they will engage in substance abuse and perform poorly in school. In fact, some researchers have found that sibling relationships are one of the greatest predictors of future adult well-being.

A Word From Verywell

To promote strong sibling bonds, parents should teach kids how to develop a close friendship and support one another. Make it clear that bullying, physical aggression, and name-calling is unacceptable.

Aside from creating a barrier to bullying, fostering healthy relationships while they are kids creates adults that know how to compromise and work as a team. What's more, sibling relationships last longer than any other relationship in a person's lifetime so it makes sense that they should be nurtured.

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