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  • Writer's pictureRonni and Jennie

Do You Know the Difference Between "Sibling Rivalry" and Sibling Abuse?

It's an important question, because sibling abuse is the most common form of family violence. It also is the most damaging. And yet we know the least about it. Family researchers have just started to seriously examine it in the last decade or two, and only four states specifically recognize sibling abuse in their laws on family violence. Part of the difficulty in naming the problem of sibling abuse is rooted in our cultural notion of "sibling rivalry"--seeing competition, conflict, and a certain level of rough physical contact ("rough-housing") as a "normal" part of childhood. There is also a philosophy of "letting kids work it out for themselves" when they are in conflict, which can leave more vulnerable children at the mercy of bigger and stronger siblings--whose developmental and cognitive skills may not be adequate to decide what is reasonable or fair for everyone in a given situation.

This leaves many children no option but to suffer in silence, and figure out how to cope with the damage on their own. And the damage is real and long-lasting. Even therapy may not be an ideal solution. While many therapists are well trained in abusive family dynamics, their knowledge is typically limited to abuse perpetrated by parents toward their children; very few know anything about sibling abuse, which means that they don't screen for it with their clients. Educating ourselves (and others) is the first step in addressing this problem. Our April 4, 2024 podcast discusses this topic in more detail.

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