It has been reported that as many as 53 out of every 100 siblings abuse a brother or sister. In fact, some experts say it is more common than spousal abuse or child abuse. It could be happening in your home without your knowledge. Learn the warning signs if one of your children is being abused and the steps to take to stop it:
Recognizing Sibling Abuse
How do you know if normal roughhousing and sibling fighting has turned into abuse? Here are some signs that sibling abuse is occurring in your home:
- Child always avoids siblings
- Frequent unexplained bruises, scrape, cuts
- Changes in behavior, sleep patterns or eating habits
- One child is typically the aggressor
- Roughness and violence increases over time
- Relationship entirely negative
- Victim doesn't want to go home
- Victim acts out abuse in play
- Victims are overly compliant, passive or withdrawn
How to Stop It
First and foremost, protect your child. Not only do you want to protect him or her from physical injury, but mental and emotional injury as well. The abused child could begin to personalize the situation and believe he or she is not worthy of being treated well. The child can grow up and look for relationships that mimic that abusive dynamic. So be sure to keep the abused child safe until his or her sibling can learn to behave differently.
Dr. Phil says physical violence occurs when your child has run out of socially acceptable ways to express himself or herself. You need to teach your child word power. Talk to him or her and let your child express his/her anger and frustration to you instead of turning to violence: "Tell me how you feel. Why are you so frustrated?" When he or she learns to express anger, it can be very cathartic and releases tension. Empathize with the abusive child to ensure that he or she has been heard: "I understand that's frustrating for you. Let's talk about that." Put yourself in his or her shoes so the child knows you understand, which can make him or her feel better.
It's important for your children to know their role in the family and that if they weren't there, the family would not be OK. Learn the Five Factors for a Phenomenal Family and use the Seven Tools for Purposeful Parenting to help bring peace to your household.
The Empathy Test
Empathy is: 1) The ability to recognize, respect and understand emotions and positions of others, 2) the ability to put yourself in somebody else's shoes, or 3) the ability to appreciate someone else's perspective and experience their feelings.
Experts say kids don't have the ability to empathize until sometime between the ages of 5 and 8. To find out if your child has empathy, try this experiment that psychologists use:
Hold up a card or piece of paper that is black on one side and white on the other. Show both sides of the card to the child, so he or she knows one side is black and one side is white. Hold the card so one of the colors is facing the child. Ask the questions, "What color do you see?" and "What color do I see?" If the child says the same color, he or she is unable to see from your perspective, which is the absence of empathy.
For more information on sibling abuse and how to stop it in your home, visit the website for the University of Michigan Health System.