Latimer: Address bullying at home

Our children receive instruction at school on how to identify and handle schoolyard bullies—what about at home?

Much has been said about bullying in recent years. By now we are all very aware of the negative long term effects childhood bullying can have on its victims. We know the mean behaviour of other children is not to be taken lightly.

With safety and mental health in mind, most schools have adopted zero tolerance policies when it comes to bullying. Our children receive instruction on how to identify and handle schoolyard bullies and how to avoid cyber bullies as well.

With all of the increased focus, I hope schools are becoming safer, friendlier places for everyone.

But what about bullying in our homes? Little gets said about what happens when brothers and sisters bully and torment one another. No one likes to acknowledge that nastiness can happen inside our own homes and between our beloved children – but if they can bully at school you can be sure they can and do bully at home sometimes too.

A recent study published in Pediatrics examined the effects of sibling bullying from childhood into middle age.  Examining longitudinal data from more than 3,000 children in the UK, Oxford researchers found bullying between siblings can lead to similar outcomes as other forms of childhood bullying.

In this study, children who experienced bullying from a sibling several times a week were roughly twice as likely to have depression, anxiety or to self-harm in early adulthood as those who were not bullied by siblings.

These results are perhaps not altogether surprising. Being bullied at home can be particularly unpleasant as it may not be possible for the child to retreat or get away from a sibling bully.

This study is a good reminder for parents and family members to be involved with our children and help them as they manage their relationships. We should be working with children to encourage them to be friends rather than competitors or enemies. It helps for parents to avoid comparing siblings in negative ways or pitting siblings against one another. When friendship is not possible between siblings, we can at least play a big role in teaching our children about acceptable and respectful treatment of others and how to be tolerant of someone with different interests or personality traits.

Sometimes we have the impulse to let children sort out their own differences. While this can be helpful in some mild circumstances, when bullying is happening we need to step in and actively assist our kids (both bully and victim) to find appropriate ways to engage with one another.

The home should be a safe place for children to get away from pressures of school or peers. It should be a space for recharging and relaxing. When this isn’t happening it is not healthy for anyone involved.