SuEllen Fried, founder of Bully Safe USA bullysafeusa, author and respected national and international speaker on the topic of child abuse and bullying, addressed the issue of sibling bullying at the 2008 International Bullying Prevention Association Conference attended by educators, legislators, law enforcement officers and psychologists…and me. Her presentation struck a cord with almost everyone in the room. Although the audience was comprised of professionals attending to expand their professional skills, the topic hit a very personal, and not often discussed, note.

SuEllen generously agreed to weigh in on Joshua’s tough situation at school and at home:

Sibling Bullying:

Research indicates a strong connection between sibling bullying and peer bullying. More than half of victims of bullying by siblings were involved in bullying behavior at school. The sibling relationship is the most long lasting of all relationships and according to studies, the most violent. Fifty-three out of every 100 children abuse siblings. As our society was in denial about peer bullying for centuries, so are we in denial about the devastation of sibling bullying.

Clearly, Joshua’s parents need to step in to support and protect him. The abuse of power he is experiencing – from the sins of commission from his brothers and the sins of omission from his parents, plus bullying at school leaves him in great pain. The pain cycle can turn to rage and revenge, or it can turn to depression and suicide. When a family becomes involved in scapegoating, the target becomes a sacrifice for the unresolved aggression issues of the other family members. Everyone pays a long-term price.

The school’s decision to transfer the bullying students to another class is a good step, but more is required. The school needs to make sure that the “bullies” are not allowed to find another target in their new class and steps need to be taken to increase Joshua’s belief in himself or he will send messages of vulnerability to other students who might be quick to turn on him. The school needs to adopt a strong bullying prevention and intervention program and the parents need to understand how important it is for them to become engaged in building a cohesive, caring, compassionate family system.

In regard to Joshua’s low grades, testing might uncover a learning disability of some kind that is holding him back. There are numerous tests that might pinpoint a specific need and an appropriate intervention that could make an enormous difference in Joshua’s life. It is extremely important to reach out to Joshua before he enters middle school with all of its challenges.

SuEllen Fried’s books are co-written with her daughter, Paula Fried, Ph.D., Clinical Psychology. Bullies and Victims, Helping Your Child Through the Schoolyard Battlefield and Bullies, Targets and Witnesses: Helping Children Break the Pain Chain” are thoughtful, well researched and worth the read. The sibling abuse chapter (Ch. 7) in Bullies and Victims gives great insight.