Sibling Fights Could Indicate a Need for Family Therapy

If your children are fighting frequently, family therapy may be able to help. Sibling aggression and bullying are usually the result of an unhealthy family dynamic. That’s why the whole family needs to seek help. Focusing on just the victim or just the aggressor will not ultimately solve your family’s bullying problem. It’s possible that your family as a whole may benefit from family therapy as a group, or on an individual level.

It’s certainly normal for siblings to fight. If you grew up with siblings, you can probably look back on your childhood and remember some of the awful fights you had with your brothers and sisters growing up. But fighting between siblings can do lasting damage to your children’s mental health. A study published last year in the journal Pediatrics linked sibling fights to increased levels of depression, anxiety and anger among those children who were the victims of sibling aggression.

Sibling Aggression Linked to Mental Illness

The study, which was done by the National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence, interviewed more than 3,500 children and adolescents over the phone, using numbers selected at random. The interviewers asked questions about the participants’ mental health problems as well as the specific kinds of sibling aggression they’d experienced in the past year. The three types of aggression covered by the questionnaire included physical aggression, properly damage and psychological aggression, like verbal abuse.

About one-third of the children and adolescents surveyed said that they had been on the receiving end of sibling aggression, violence or bullying in the past year. Those who had been the victims of sibling aggression reported higher levels of depression, anxiety and anger than those who had not. The more often a child becomes the target of sibling aggression, the more likely he or she can benefit from family therapy.

This is not the first study to examine sibling aggression and violence. Another study determined that sibling aggression is common. At least half of children under the age of ten experience aggression at the hands of their siblings. Among children aged 3 to 17, 80 percent reported experiencing violence at the hands of a brother or sister during the year of the study period.

Could Your Children Benefit from Family Therapy?

It’s unrealistic to expect that your children will never fight, just as it’s unrealistic to expect that you’ll never have a fight with a spouse or a disagreement with a relative. Siblings fight.

But you shouldn’t just let your children “fight it out” – use sibling fights as an opportunity to teach your children to resolve their differences constructively. If aggression and violence between your children becomes a common occurrence, or if bullying is occurring, our family therapy center can help correct the dysfunctional dynamics in your family.

Is It Normal Sibling Aggression, or Bullying?

How can you tell if the fights your children have are normal sibling aggression, or bullying? Normal sibling aggression flows both ways. If your son pulls your daughter’s hair and she retaliates by kicking him in the knee, that’s normal sibling aggression. When each of your children seems equally capable of picking a fight with the others, the aggression between them cannot be labeled as bullying – although even normal sibling aggression can lead to an increased risk of mental health problems in children.

Bullying, on the other hand, takes on a pattern. When one of your children is consistently the aggressor and one of your children is consistently the victim, that’s a sign of bullying. A child who is a bully wields power over the child being bullied. The bullied child will not fight back. The aggression flows only one way.

When this happens, it’s definitely time to seek the help of our Florida family therapy center. Bullying by a sibling can cause lasting and severe psychological and emotional damage. Family therapy can help correct the family dynamic that is encouraging one or more of your children to bully. One-on-one therapy may also be helpful for individual members of your family.

Fighting between siblings may not be as harmless as it was once thought. If your kids are fighting a lot, our family therapy specialists can help.

Call us today at 561-338-7725 to set up an appointment.