There are personal characteristics, temperaments and disorders that may increase the likelihood of sibling abuse perpetration such as substance abuse, low empathy, and anger. As well, experiences with peer bullying, and low self-esteem have been known to be linked. There are also family conditions that can create resentment and hostility between children and lead to sibling abuse. Most parents are upset to learn that sibling abuse occurs under their roof; they may be unable to manage the behavior; or they may feel helpless to address it. Additionally, parents may report that their child is also abusing them. It is important to recognize multiple variables within a family that can unintentionally create hostile sibling relations.
2. Favoritism Granted, each child cannot be treated the same all the time. However, it is important for caregivers to recognize the strengths of each child. Whether the perpetrator of abuse or the victimized child is favored, both dynamics warrant potential sibling aggression. When a child experiences a sibling as favored, he/she may react by mistreating the sibling.
3. Poor Parental Modeling & External Stressors When external environmental stressors, such as economic or social problems occur, parents who have difficulty controlling their emotions may act in ways that disturb the children. Parents who are consistently overwhelmed are not able to provide emotional support to their children. Some parents can’t tolerate a range or intensity of emotion in their children. These families often create a negative atmosphere of criticism, judgment, and abusive communication and lack appropriate modeling of stress reduction.
4. Collusion In families where there is a single parent, or the parents are not unified in parenting customs, or there is stress between the caregivers, a parent can feel alienated. This can create an emotional reliance on a(n) older child to support the parenting role. As with a child who is a caregiver, the implicit role ordained sends a message that the child has the right to discipline, and that the parent will support whatever that child deems necessary. It can also appear as a special friendship or bond between one child and the parent whereby the isolated child feels ostracized and the abuse imparted by a sibling is supported by a parent, thus creating a “double whammy”.
Sibling abuse must be understood from a family systems lens. The existence of this abusive sibling relationship is indicative of (not necessarily active and intentional) parental neglect and is a symptom of dysfunctional family processes. Identifying the abused child as the problem or even the perpetrator can inadvertently cause the children to feel victimized and targeted rather than helped. It’s important to recognize that Intervention must address both the members of the family system and the system as a whole.