Bullying outside the home makes headlines daily, but sibling bullying can happen under one’s own roof, and can be misperceived as normal, say experts.
“Sibling rivalry and sibling abuse are two separate things,” says Pam Franklin, author of “My Five Sisters,” a memoir of the author’s challenging childhood. “Mental health issues are both at the root of these problems, and can also perpetuate them.”
Franklin, who was psychologically and physically abused by her mentally ill older sister, has turned her story into a unique exploration of how dangerous sibling abuse can become if not addressed. She feels her story could help others and is offering insights to those attempting to identify whether behaviors they have witnessed are normal or problematic:
• While all siblings are inclined to bicker or compete, a supreme imbalance of power that threatens the mental or physical safety of a particular child is not acceptable and should be addressed. Observe your children and ask other responsible parties, such as babysitters and relatives, for feedback on what they’ve seen or heard.
• Keep in mind that many children won’t normally share problems occurring at home, fearing retribution from abusers or possessing anxiety that no one will believe them. Many such children become masters at hiding their feelings. Don’t ignore signs. Pursue the matter until you discover the truth. Even if there are no visible issues, regularly talking to your children about their thoughts and feelings is fundamental.
• Write down troubling symptoms to share with your child’s doctor or therapist. A listing of behaviors can help healthcare professionals make a proper diagnosis. For example, Franklin’s sister and tormenter suffered from Dissociative Identity Disorder, (DID, previously known as Multiple Personality Disorder). Affecting only 0.01 to one percent of the population, DID is a severe form of dissociation characterized by the presence of two or more distinct identities or personality states that have power over a person’s behavior and can be accompanied by mood swings, sleep disorders, panic attacks, compulsions and psychotic-like symptoms.
• Some mental health disorders are much more common than DID and can also have larger ramifications. In fact, 10 percent of the population today takes antidepressants and many more have undiagnosed issues. If you have concerns, talk to your child’s pediatrician about next steps. Without treatment, gaining control of a condition is difficult or even impossible
• Don’t let your family’s financial situation be a deterrent towards getting needed help. Counseling services are available at every price point and some clinics have a sliding scale pay structure based on income. For victims and abusers alike, treatment is one of the only paths towards leading a functional, healthy life.
More information can be found at www.PamFranklin-author.com.
Kids will be kids, but that doesn’t mean everything that occurs between them is harmless. Take conflicts between siblings as seriously as you would between your child and his or her classmates.