A Catonsville child psychiatrist says a study showing that aggression even among young siblings may lead to serious mental health issues makes sense because bullying can be damaging to victims no matter who does it.
A study published this week in Pediatrics found that “the possible importance of sibling aggression for children’s and adolescents’ mental health should not be dismissed,” and efforts against bullying should include sibling, not just peer, aggression.
“It really doesn’t matter who’s doing the bullying,” says child psychiatrist Allen Kleinberg, M.D., of Catonsville. “What really matters is the person who’s being bullied feels like they’re losing control and the bullier is really trying to take control. Bullying to me is all about power and control and the difference between horseplay and bullying.”
As part of The National Survey of Children's Exposure to Violence, the researchers analyzed telephone interviews of 3,599 children ages 0 to 17 who experienced sibling aggression — which includes psychological, property, mild or severe physical assault — in the past year. Each child had at least one sibling under 18 who was living at home.
“There is a natural emotional intensity to sibling relationships,” lead author Corinna Jenkins Tucker, an associate professor of family studies at the University of New Hampshire, told LiveScience. "There is a lot of love, but also the potential for a lot of conflicts."
The study found that children “showed greater mental health distress” than adolescents in the case of mild physical assault, while there was no difference for the other types of sibling aggression. Mental distress can lead to “anger, depression and anxiety in the child who is being targeted,” according to the report.
Because adults often downplay sibling aggression, it is “under-recognized and under-estimated,” Tucker told LiveScience.
“I think it’s very helpful for parents to keep their eyes open to what’s going on with what’s going on with their kids,” Kleinberg said. “What they might think of as normal sibling rivalry can sometimes be unhealthy.”View the study’s abstract on Pediatrics and the LiveScience article for more information.