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Sibling Bullying: When it crosses the line and 3 ways to handle it

Sibling bullying is never okay.

It’s common for small sibling rivalries to exist in the home. A tease here and there can be frustrating for parents, but not problematic.

However, Studio 5 Parenting Contributor Heather Johnson says teasing can cross into bullying, and bully behavior from a brother or sister is unacceptable. She shares ways parents can put an end to bullying in the home.

 To contact Heather for counseling, email, or visit


How to Handle Sibling Bullying

Defining Bullying in the Home

Heather draws attention to the thin line between teasing and bullying.

“If you’re watching one of your children consistently reach out and intentionally hurt, harm, belittle, embarrass one of their siblings, we probably want to consider that it’s bullying,” she cautions.

Heather says a power imbalance and repetitive intentional actions distinguish bullying from typical sibling behavior.

“It needs to happen over and over again,” Heather says.

Understanding the Root Causes

Heather says there can be many motivations behind sibling bullying. All of them come down to emotions.

“Kids tend to bully because they’re angry, jealous, feel inadequate, or insecure. They often bully because they want attention. All these reasons boil down to one thing: a child who doesn’t know how to navigate big emotions.”

Preventative Parenting: Daily Maintenance

Introducing the concept of preventative maintenance, Heather stresses the importance of kids’ daily interactions with parents.

“Preventative maintenance is making sure that they get empathy every single day. It’s a different story when they’re feeling uncomfortable, or when they don’t know what to do with the emotions, and their ears are much more open because we’ve developed a relationship every day.”

Teaching Emotional Management

Heather says it’s important to teach kids emotional management and empathy.

“Teach them that behavior is a byproduct of emotions or needs or desires… kids understand that. So, teach them that behavior is a result of an emotion I’m feeling, a desire that I have, or a need that I’m trying to fulfill.”

In-the-Moment Intervention

Heather advises immediate intervention when bullying occurs.

“Don’t ignore. Intervene immediately. When the bullying occurs, you are going to immediately attend to the person who was bullied. You’re going to make sure they’re okay.”

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