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Not Just a Problem at School: Sibling Bullying


Involvement in bullying in any way—even as a witness— may have serious and long-lasting negative consequences for children. Kids who report being frequently bullied by others are more likely to experience feelings of sadness, loneliness, depression and anxiety and more likely to experience physical health problems and problems in school. Kids who bully others may also experience effects, and kids who report both being bullied and bullying others (sometimes referred to as bully-victims) have the highest rates of negative mental health outcomes.

Bullying refers to intentional behaviors that hurt, harm, or humiliate a person, either physically or emotionally.

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Much of the focus is on bullying in schools, but bullying can take place at home among siblings too and it can have a significant and lasting impact. However, sibling bullying is often seen as harmless by families and society, just part of growing up.

Sibling relationships are important and can have long-term effects on a child’s development, including negative effects. Most siblings experience some occasional conflict or sibling squabbling. However, sibling bullying can be harmful.

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Sibling bullying has been associated with a lower sense of competence and self-esteem, more internalized problems and greater risk of distress and depression in early adulthood. Sibling bullying increases the risk of being involved in peer bullying. Children bullied by both a sibling and peers have greater emotional problems than those only experiencing bullying in one environment. Children with a physical disability or with a weight problem are at greater risk of being victims of sibling bullying.

Sibling bullying can continue into adulthood

One study by Slava Dantchev, with the University of Warwick in Coventry, UK, and colleagues, found that children who either bullied their sibling or were the victims of bullying by their sibling were at greater risk of a psychotic disorder. The authors conclude that their work “parents and health professionals should be aware of the adverse long-term effects of sibling bullying.”

Psychologist Eileen Kennedy-Moore, Ph.D., suggests a few steps parents can take, such as teaching problem-solving skills and helping them to learn to work things out themselves; modeling courtesy; and caring and working to create a peaceful home; stepping in when necessary and separating the kids; and fostering fun activities that siblings can do together.



  • Bowes, L. et al. Sibling bullying and risk of depression, anxiety, and self-harm: a prospective cohort study. Pediatrics, 2014, 134(4):e1032-9.
  • Plamandon, A, Bouchare, G, Lachance-Grela, M. Family Dynamics and Young Adults’ Well-Being: The Mediating Role of Sibling Bullying. Journal of Interpersonal Violence. 2018, Sept. 21 (E-pub ahead of print.)
  • Dantchev, S, Zammit, S, Wolke, D. Sibling bullying in middle childhood and psychotic disorder at 18 years: a prospective cohort study. Psychological Medicine. 2018, 48(14): 2321-2328.
  • Kennedy-Moore, E. Sibling Abuse and Bullying. Psychology Today. Dec. 31, 2015.
  • Wolke, D, Tippett, N, Dantchev, S. Bullying in the family: sibling bullying. Lancet Psychiatry, 2015 Oct;2(10):917-29.




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