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Bullying at school linked to bullying at home

30 November 2009 British Psychological Society (BPS)

Children who bully at school are likely to also bully their siblings at home. This is the finding of a study published online in the British Journal of Developmental Psychology today, 30  November 2009.

Dr Ersilia Menesini and colleagues at the Universita’ degli Studi di Firenze, Italy, designed the study to investigate whether the age and gender of a child’s siblings predicted whether children were likely to bully, or to become victims of bullying. They also looked for links between sibling bullying and school bullying

A total of 195 children aged between 10 and 12 took part in the study. All of the children had a sibling no more than four years older or younger than them.  Children were given questionnaires that asked whether they were a victim of bullying, or bullied their peers at school, and whether they were a victim of bullying by a sibling or bullied a sibling at home.

Dr Menesini said: “We found that children with older male siblings were the most victimised group.

It was also the case that significantly more boys than girls told us that they bullied their sibling - who was most likely to be younger than them.  It’s likely that this form of sibling bullying is all about maintaining a position of dominance.

“However, for girls, bullying is mainly related to a poor quality of sibling relationship and not to birth order.  In fact, high levels of conflict and low levels of empathy were significantly related to sibling bullying and sibling victimization.”

A significant link between bullying and victimisation patterns at home and at school was found. Children who bullied siblings were likely to bully their peers, while victims at home were likely to also be victimized at school. Dr Menesini continued: “It is not possible to tell from our study which behaviour comes first, but it is likely that if children behave in a certain way at home, bullying a sibling for instance, if this behaviour goes unchecked they may take this behaviour into school.”  In conclusion this study gives immediate implications for interventions. In order to prevent and reduce sibling bullying, parents should attend to sibling relationships and attempt to mediate and reduce high levels of conflict, especially if they have older sons and if the sibling relationship appears negative and highly hostile.

School teachers, on the other hand, will need to adopt a ‘family – school’ focus to understand bullying and to prevent its diffusion. Bullying can start at an early age and greater efforts should be made to prevent and to combat its growth at home in order to reduce bullying and victimization in school.

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