Ignoring sibling aggression can result in violence at home - AmericaNowNews.com

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Ignoring sibling aggression can result in violence at home

Sibling rivalries are considered by many to be a normal aspect of childhood, but a recent study published in The Journal of Pediatrics warns the aggression in these rivalries can be unhealthy.

In some cases, the problem can be as bad as bullying and have lasting effects on a child's mental health.

If you search YouTube, you will find a number of videos showing children and teens violently fighting at home. 

While difficult to watch, these videos provide a glimpse into disturbing sibling behavior taking place in homes across America, often when parents aren't around to call time out!

Randell and Cameron Enoch are typical teens. They like playing ball with friends, lifting weights and, of course, teasing one another. At times, however, the horseplaying and namecalling can get out of hand. 

"Sometimes arguments, sometimes physical fighting," Randell said.

Occasionally, there's violent behavior like the day their mother, Tamara Lewis, received a distressing call.

"I was at work and my dad called me on the phone," Lewis said. "The oldest one was upset. I can't remember what it was about, but he was upset and he had a knife and pulled it out in front of the youngest one. I couldn't get home fast enough. Like any parent, you don't know what is going on, or what's going to happen."

Fortunately, neither of her sons were hurt, but that's when Tamara decided to hide her kitchen knives as a precautionary measure.

She also sought professional help for her sons who were diagnosed with some emotional and behavioral problems.

"My oldest one is bipolar, and with that disorder, I take extreme measures because he gets angry," Lewis told America Now.

Researchers at the University of New Hampshire recently conducted a study evaluating data on 3,600 children – ages one month to 17. One-third of the children in the study were victims of sibling aggression.

Their research showed "severe physical aggression" is more common in adolescence than childhood.

The American Academy of Child Adolescent Psychiatry says the signs of severe physical aggression include persistent problems with fighting, biting or aggressive behavior which includes kicking, hitting, or using a weapon or object to injure another sibling.

Unfortunately, too often, parents ignore the warning signs.

"A lot of times, parents will say it's just natural," said Dr. David F. Lelio who is a child and adolescent psychiatrist in Charlotte, NC.

If children exhibit severe physical aggression, Lelio says parents should immediately seek help from a mental health professional.

"I've seen some wonderful things happen with family therapy, with negotiating rules, parents making it very clear that this is not going to happen within the home, this is not acceptable," Lelio said. 

Tamera's sons now take medication and regularly meet with a psychiatrist.

"Counseling is kinda helping him [Randell], and it's helped me deal with my problems and issues better," Cameron said.

For example, Randell says he has learned a variety of ways to manage his anger.

"When I am out there walking and jogging, it's teaching me how to control it and let it out in an appropriate times instead of doing something bad with it," Randell said.

Experts we spoke to agree the sooner parents recognize the signs of sibling aggression and seek help, the greater the chances of changing behaviors before a sibling gets hurt now – or a troubled child grows into a troubled adult.

When sibling aggression becomes a problem, experts advise parents to remain calm, use simple language to make your points, and paraphrase any hurtful words the children may have used instead of repeating them.

Copyright 2013 America Now. All rights reserved.

Additional Information:

The following information is from Dr. Corinna Jenkins Tucker, Assoc. Professor of Family Studies, University of New Hampshire.

  • Sibling aggression can result in severe injuries. Dr. Tucker says she is familiar with one case which involved a victim who says when she was a child, her brother broke her leg.
  • Many people mistakenly associate sibling aggression as a "little kid" issue which Dr. Tucker says is not the case.
  • A study on sibling aggression conducted by Dr. Tucker and her colleagues at the University of New Hampshire analyzed data collected on 3,599 children ages one month through 17. They found the relationship between both mild and severe forms of sibling aggressions with mental health were the same as those of peer aggression. In other words, aggression between brothers and sisters at home was just as detrimental as aggression between children and adolescents of the same age at school, etc. 
  • Dr. Tucker says 32 percent of our sample report being the victim of sibling aggression. Severe physical aggression is more common in adolescence than in childhood. Severe physical aggression was defined as being kicked, hit, or beaten with a weapon or object and/or resulting in injury. We also examined mild physical assault, property aggression and psychological aggression.  Dr. Tucker says with siblings who live in the same household, there will be fights.
  • Sibling aggression in her study was linked to worse mental health. Mental health was determined by measures of anger, depression and anxiety.
  • Dr. Tucker says there seems to be different norms with regard to aggression in terms of what is acceptable in peer vs. sibling relationships that are accepted. For example, if a child is hits a peer, people respond differently than if a brother hits their sibling. 
  • Because siblings are going to fight, it is an opportunity for parents to teach relationship skills. 
  • Dr. Tucker cites research that shows the way a child fights with his or her siblings could indicate how that individual will one day fight with their sex partner as an adult.
  • If sibling aggression occurs in your home, there are things parents should do.

1.)  First, give your children the opportunity "work it out" among themselves.

2.)   Parents should act as a neutral third party. Don't defend who you think is the victim child because the aggressor may perceive the weaker child as being favored by the parent and the victim does not learn confidence in handling conflict situations.

3.)  Parents should ask – ‘What is the issue?' Get both children to agree on the issue.

4.)   Ask your children to come up with a solution(s) or alternatives to the problem and help with seeing each child's point of view. With younger children, parents may have to suggest they take turns playing with something, etc. With older siblings, let them decide on what the solution should be. Dr. Tucker says this allows the children/adolescents to take ownership of the problem and solution. This gets them to move forward.

5.)    Finally, parents should praise their children for how they resolved the situation, and offer positive reinforcement.

  • Dr. Tucker says it's also important for parents to model conflict resolution skills for their children.  

Click to read more from Aspen Education Group in an article entitled, "Sibling Aggression: Why Can't My Kids Just Get Along?" (Source: http://aspeneducation.crchealth.com/articles/article-sibling-aggression/).

The following information is from the American Academy of Child Adolescent Psychiatry (Source: http://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/Facts_for_Families_Pages/Fighting_And_Biting_81.aspx ) 

  • Research has shown that children who are physically aggressive at a younger age are more likely to continue this behavior when they are older.
  • Studies have also shown that children who are repeatedly exposed to violence and aggression from TV, videos, and movies act more aggressively.
  • If a young child has a persistent problem with fighting, biting or aggressive behavior, parents should seek professional assistance from a child and adolescent psychiatrist or other mental health professional who specializes in the evaluation and treatment of behavior problems in very young children.
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