Should sibling aggression be a cause for concern?

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Sibling aggression is often seen as a part of growing up, but the chances of being bullied at school are considerably higher if children are victimised by their siblings.

The researchers from The University of Warwick used participants’ data (4,237 adolescents) from Wave 1 of Understanding Society to create the new report; Aggression Between Siblings: Associations With the Home Environment and Peer Bullying.

Four types of sibling aggression were measured: physical, verbal, stealing and teasing, and combined into composite measures of victimization and perpetration.

Regression analysis identified associations with demographic characteristics, family and sibling composition, parent-child relationships and socioeconomic status and explored the link between sibling aggression and involvement in peer bullying.

Using a broad definition, sibling aggression was found to be widespread, with 46% of all participants being victimised and 36% perpetrating aggression.

“Despite the large volume of research on peer aggression or bullying, few studies have examined links between sibling and peer forms of aggression.” Dieter Wolke, University of Warwick

Types of questions

To identify victims of sibling aggression, children were asked “How often do any of your brothers or sisters do any of the following to you at home?” with the options “hit, kick, or push you” (physical), “take your belongings” (stealing), “call you nasty names” (verbal), and “make fun of you” (teasing). Four response categories determined the frequency of each option: never; not much (1–3 times in last 6 months); quite a lot (more than four times in the last 6 months); a lot (a few times every week).

School bullying questions included: How often do you get physically bullied at school, for example, getting pushed around, hit or threatened, or having belongings stolen?

Key findings

  • Overall, 46% of youths had been victims of sibling aggression, while 35.6% had perpetrated aggressive behavior towards their siblings over the last 6 months.
  • No significant sex differences were found for overall victimization; however, females were more often victims of stealing than males.
  • Younger children were more often victimized by siblings overall (52.5% of 10–12 year olds vs. 47.5% of 13–15 year olds), but also experienced more physical aggression.
  • Victimization by siblings was associated with being the eldest child in the family, having two or more siblings, and living in families who experienced poverty or financial stress. Victimization was also linked to higher levels of harsh parenting and poorer relation-ships with parents.
  • Involvement in sibling aggression was strongly associated with victim, bully and bully-victims roles at school. With each increase of one standard deviation on the sibling victimization scale, the odds of being a victim of bullying at school increased by 69%.
  • Of all the factors considered, parenting characteristics were most strongly linked with sibling aggression. Poor relationships with parents and harsh parenting behaviour predicted greater sibling aggression, while positive parenting and good relationships were associated with reduced levels of aggression.

Neil Tippett and Dieter Wolke from the Department of Psychology, University of Warwick are the authors of the full article.

Related Links

this news has been re-posted from the Understanding Society website