Wednesday, March 4, 2015

When your bully lives at home

My son likes to tell me stories about his classmates' behavior at school. (He's a bit of a talker.) I know all about the children who use too many paper towels, or the ones who never sleep during quiet time, and even about the ones who have too many "hateful words." I remind my son that I am only interested in his behavior. Then I remind him that if someone is being mean to him that he knows to walk away and when to escalate the issue to his teacher.

There is a lot of talk about bullying in the classroom - even at the young age he is at - and what children should do when they encounter a bully. But, surprisingly, there is not a lot of discussion when bullying behavior happens at home.

Researchers from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln asked undergraduate students about their childhood experiences and found that many experienced bullying behaviors at home from older siblings but never reported it. The researchers who conducted the study were careful to use a list of bullying behaviors to qualify their report, so the results couldn't be chalked up to cases of sibling rivalry.

The researchers pointed out that experiencing bullying at home normalizes the behavior for children and makes them less likely to report those behaviors at school. In lots of cases, participants in the study reported that their parents didn't see those behaviors as bullying but just natural interactions between siblings.

As someone with an older brother and a single working Mom, I did get picked on a lot by my brother. Was it bullying? The researchers might say yes; I might think about it differently depending on my age. After reading the results of the study, it makes me thankful that my son doesn't have a younger sibling to pick on. It's a hard judgement call to make: Where's the line between sibling squabbles and bullying?

Was your older sibling a bully? Tell me about it in the comments.

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