Teasing or Sibling Abuse?

Sadie’s Story

Laying in the cold sheets of her bed as the tears dried on her face, Sadie wondered why they hated her. What had she done to them to have them hate her so much? Maybe if she was prettier and smarter like her older sister, or if she was blonde and had blue eyes like her younger sisters, they would love her more. She wondered if she was really adopted, more like hoped she was, and her birth parents would one day come and rescue her. Anxiety filled her mind and body just thinking about tomorrow. She knew she would soon have to face them all again, and it would start all over.

As morning came, she rolled herself out of bed. She listened at the door to make sure no one was coming down the hall. The sound of her parents talking, and her baby brother crying was all she heard. She opened her door slightly and peeked out. The hallway was clear to the bathroom, so she hurried across the hall and locked the bathroom door behind her. A quick shower was all she needed. As she turned on the water she heard a bang on the door, “Hurry up moron you have been in there all morning, it’s my turn. She hurried out and as she passed an older sibling in the hall, she felt a hand on her head and then her face smack against the wall. Watch where you’re going, idiot. This was just the beginning of her morning and knew this wasn’t the worst of it. Sadie suffered each day with a constant battle for survival in her own home. Her siblings called her names, spit in her drinks when she wasn’t looking, made fun of her crooked teeth, and much more. Sadie wasn’t the only sibling to experience abuse happening in the family. 

During the day she had some relief from the hate at home. She had a few friends but mostly kept to herself. She didn’t talk much because she was afraid of what her peers would say about her. Her teachers would often comment about how she was so quiet and never spoke up in class. But even the attention of her teacher asking her this filled her with anxiety. She was not used to having an adult talk to her in a calm manner. But this was still easy compared to what she faced at home.

Teasing or Sibling Abuse?

If this story is starting to sound like you have heard this before, then you may have come from a larger family or know someone who has. Although sibling abuse occurs most frequently in large families, it can still occur in any family, no matter how small or large. Some would say this behavior is just normal sibling behavior. That they are just playing and teasing each other. But how far does just teasing have to go to be considered abuse?

Overlooking this abuse can be detrimental to a child’s self-confidence and mental health. Children who suffer from sibling abuse are more likely to suffer from anxiety, depression, panic attacks, low self-esteem, self-harm, suicidal ideation, and suicide. They are at higher risk of facing other types of abuse in their life including domestic violence, dating violence, and intimate partner violence. If this abuse was happening to Sadie at school, there would be interventions to help stop this abuse. We have programs for domestic violence, child abuse, and bullying at school, but when it comes from a sibling it is considered harmless.

Research suggests that parents have a hard time determining what is abuse and what should be considered harmful teasing. In non-sexual sibling abuse, the abuse is more likely to be emotional and, in some cases, physical. In Sadie’s case, she was experiencing emotional and physical abuse. Her parents tried to stop the fighting but just couldn’t keep up. They never thought it could cause so many adverse effects for their children that they would carry with them through their lives. 40 % of American children have participated in physical sibling abuse, and 85 % participated in psychological abuse.

What Can I Do?

How can we help children like Sadie? Watch for signs, in Sadie’s case, the signs were: being quiet, keeping to herself, and being nervous to talk to others. Report to the authorities if you suspect something could be happening at home. Even if they do not find anything at least this allows the parents to reflect on their child’s well-being. Parents, watch how your children interact with each other, if there is name calling, hitting or other physical or mental abuse put a stop to it. Teach your children about respect and what to do if someone is mistreating them. And finally, by sharing the knowledge that sibling abuse is real we can help more children like Sadie to escape the trauma and anxiety of being afraid in their own home.

Fortunately, Sadie did get help, from her guidance counselor at school. Sadie and her family were able to get the family counseling they needed. She is currently working as a family therapist and advocating for children who are experiencing any form of abuse.

My name is Mindy Ash, I am from West Mountain, Utah. I have lived in Utah all of my life and love living here. I am married with three children. I have a son-in-law, a new grandbaby, and a soon-to-be daughter-in-law. I am currently working towards my bachelor’s degree in marriage, family, and human relations at Brigham Young University- Idaho through the pathways program. I will then work towards my master’s degree in family and marriage therapy. My plan is to help others who have struggled with a spouse or family member struggling with addiction.

The Impact of Bullying on Mental Health

My world shattered when I was 17 years old. I was a junior in high school and a member of my school’s drama presidency. I never imagined how cruel my friends of over six years could be. One of my friends began spreading rumors and ‘accidentally’ shoving me into lockers or tripping me. I sought help from my other friends, but none of them believed me. I thought things were improving when she seemed to back off. However, after the end-of-the-year drama banquet, I showed up to school and not a single one of my friends would acknowledge my existence.

I spent weeks being whispered about and ignored by my friends. Eventually, they sent texts telling me I was worthless and better off dead. I began experiencing at least three panic attacks per day. I would hide in the drama dressing rooms with the lights off and cry. I went to the drama teacher, but he chose to believe the group of people I used to call friends over me. I spent that summer as a shell of who I used to be. If it wasn’t for my loving and supportive family, I’m not sure where I would be today.

Unfortunately, there are millions of other stories like mine, and not all of them are lucky enough to have a family like mine. It has been reported in the United States that 1 in 5 students are bullied per school year. Bullying can include being the subject of name-calling, insults, rumors, physical aggression, or being purposely excluded from group activities. Students who are perceived as different are at a higher risk of being bullied. We often refer to these students as minority students. This applies to students of the LGBTQ community, religious minorities, racial minorities, and students with disabilities.

Regardless of a student’s demographics, bullying causes detrimental effects on a student’s mental health. Victims of bullying have a higher chance of experiencing depression, suicidal tendencies, anxiety, and low self-esteem. When a student’s self-esteem is damaged, they are more likely to experience a decrease in self-confidence and an increase in self-criticism. The bullies themselves also experience adverse effects which increase their likelihood to abuse alcohol, drugs, future partners, or future children. Bullying is harmful to everyone involved.

Students used to be able to come home from school and escape the torment of their bullies. However, by the age of 12, 71% of children have a phone and 56% of children have their own social media accounts. This creates the gateway for cyberbullying. Students with access to social media no longer have a safe place to hide from their bullies. A survey showed that 15.7% of high school students were victims of cyberbullying within the past year before taking the survey. Cyberbullying involves being bullied via technology and experiencing name-calling, spreading rumors, physical threats, stalking, receiving unwanted explicit images, and having personal explicit images shared without their consent.

During the COVID-19 worldwide pandemic, students’ social media addictions increased. The more time they spend on social media, the more likely they are to become a victim of cyberbullying. These students aren’t just statistics. These students are your children, your grandchildren, your nieces and nephews, and your siblings. The children in your life are just one filter away from enjoying TikTok and memes to experiencing online harassment or extortion. Your children can experience lifelong damage as victims of bullying that affects their ability to trust in any future friendships or intimate relationships. So, what can you do to help ensure your children are safe from bullying at home and at school?

I strongly encourage parents to promote honesty in their homes, teach internet safety, help build self-confidence, establish boundaries, and keep computers and other electronic devices in an easily monitored location. There is a lot of disagreement on whether smartphones should be allowed in a child’s room at night. I don’t believe there is a universal answer since each child is unique. It is important to have these discussions with your child so they feel they have a voice and that their opinion matters. Treating them with respect will help build their self-confidence.

Some things schools can do to help prevent bullying are to teach students empathy, create opportunities for students to connect, and watch for concerning behaviors. Teachers are essential in helping to prevent bullying in school. While the number of students to teachers is highly disproportionate, teachers need to be watchful for signs of bullying. Members of the school board can create rules to better protect children, and create bullying protocols. For these rules and protocols to be effective, they must be strictly enforced.

The most important people to help prevent bullying are other students because they are the ones on the front lines. Students, watch for ways you can help someone in need. It can be difficult to stand up for a victim because you feel you could be next, but I plead with you to take a stand. If one student stands up for another, more are likely to join in. I know it would have meant the world to me if someone had stood up for me.

 Kaitlyn Wangsgard is a graduate of the Marriage and Family Studies Department at Brigham Young University-Idaho. Her current area of focus is Marriage and Family Studies. She enjoys reading, the performing arts, strategic games, and spending time with her family.

Video: Change Your Heart, Not Your Kids

Have you ever been frustrated with your children when they don’t help or clean up after themselves? Are you tired of nagging them to pick up their mess? You’re not alone! Dr. Tim teaches that how parents see their children matters more in these situations than how the kids (or the parents) act. Watch Dr. Tim’s video to learn more.



Video Transcription

Hey there, folks! Dr. Tim here from Family Good Things. Just reporting live (as if you’re watching this live, this isn’t Facebook Live). It just seems like I’m supposed to say that, because that’s what news people do. Dr. Tim reporting live from Channel 5 . . . I don’t know. This isn’t live. This is just a video I’m recording.

I’m in Mesa, Arizona. As you can see, I’m sweating profusely. I’ve been out in 110 degree temperature walking around. I’m also repping Porn Kills Love, which is Fight the New Drug, our friends over there. They do tremendous things in helping us understand the harms of pornography to the individual, to relationships, and to society at large.


But that’s not what this video’s about. I’m here with my wife. Well, she’s not here right now, but we’re in Arizona because I’m working with a couple different organizations that are doing phenomenal things. The first one is NAFFA. It stands for the Native American Fatherhood and Families Association.

I first came in contact with them when I was recently at the United Nations. Well, last March. I was speaking there and I met Mark, who works with NAFFA, and they do tremendous things.

They’re working with hundreds of tribes across the country, native American tribes, strengthening fatherhood and families within those tribes. They have rock a solid program, and more and more people are flocking to it. They’ve asked me to work with them to help it with research, and making the program even stronger, and I’m just honored to be part of it.

So I came down here because I thought it would be a great opportunity for me, and for my students who may intern there, work for them as well.

Anasazi Foundation

Second organization is called the Anasazi Foundation. It’s a wilderness therapy program that was started back in the . . . I want to say 80s, working with troubled teens, but also troubled parents. Many times when people think of a troubled teen, they think the teen is troubled by themselves, or the child’s behavior is just the child’s issue. I think Anasazi gets it, and they get it really well.

So the teens go out in the wilderness for several weeks, living off the land and learning more about life, and meanwhile, back at headquarters, here in Mesa, the parents are getting instructed on tremendous principles that are paradigm shifters. In fact, their paradigm or their framework that they’ve used is from The Anatomy of Peace, by the Arbinger Institute. If you haven’t read that book, you need to. It’s one of the primary texts in my parenting class. Phenomenal book.

So I was meeting with them, picking their brain because I’m wanting to know how to make my parenting class better, especially as I’m creating it for online.

So on that note, while I’m sweaty and stinky — it’s a good thing smell doesn’t come through the speakers and through the screen. On that note, wanted to share just a couple things from The Anatomy of Peace, mostly just a personal experience I’ve had. And it’s something that you all experience every day.

A Clean Home

As a father of four children, I value . . . honestly, I value a clean home. I don’t . . . if you were to ask me, away from everything, I’d say, “Yes. I value my children much more than I value a clean home.” But it’s really easy to have something become bigger than our relationship with our children.

So, for instance, my wife had to go to a meeting for something, and I was home with the four children. And after she left, I was finishing cleaning up the dishes. And everybody has their own dish job, and they were doing it pretty good, whether it’s loading the dishwasher which is everybody’s least favorite, or setting the table, which is everybody’s most favorite.

I was rinsing the dishes and getting them ready to load in the dishwasher. And it was summertime — it is summertime, and so they’re wanting to go off and frolic outside and play. And these feelings . . . you have to be aware of your feelings.

Pay Attention to Your Feelings

Lesson number one: always pay attention to your feelings, to what is welling up inside of your heart. These feelings of almost entitlement, of I deserve, like if I’m doing all of this work, I deserve children who will . . . you can fill in the blank. In this case, I went to the living room and it had just been destroyed. Not that big of a deal, but in that moment it became a bigger deal than it needed to be.

So, inside I was kind of warring toward them. And this is the moment you start to see your children as objects and not as people, meaning their desires and their agendas and their passions and their hopes and dreams and fears, they’re not legitimate. They’re just objects. They’re objects or obstructions in the way of your agenda, which in this case was a clean living room.

So, being a well-educated father about parenting, and being an “expert,” I matched my behavior to what I should say, even though inside I was warring at this room that had just been cleaned maybe an hour earlier. You all know this. Trying to clean your home while your children are growing is like shoveling the walk before it stops snowing. If you haven’t heard that phrase before, there you go.


So I asked them, and they started whining, and complaining. “It’s not my mess!” You guys know it. “It’s not my mess!” “She did that!”And then it’s all this accusing. And that only increased my feelings of, “Hey, I deserve you to clean this up because, after all I do for you . . .” You may not voice all these things, but that’s why you have to pay attention to these feelings. In The Anatomy of Peace they’re called justifications, sort of feeling why I was justified to have these feelings toward them.

And so my tone got more bite in it, and I increased my volume, and then it just invited more war and people were arguing with each other . . . We got the room cleaned up, but I’ll tell you what: the feeling in the home was not good, the feeling in my heart was not good, and they didn’t have good feelings about me.

So in essence, what happened was the living room, or the cleaning of the living room, became more important than my relationship, and really my way of being towards them, how I am towards them. And I guarantee you, your children know when they’re feeling like objects, when they’re being treated as that, when you see them as that.

Behavior Vs. Relationship

Now here’s a pointer. You have to read the book to really get this. In fact, you really need to read it several times, and you have to read it with a lot of meditating. Otherwise, you’ll just skip over these. “Oh, I don’t do that! I don’t do that.” One of the best things parents can do is spend time really pondering on when I keep running into problems — whether it’s your children eating their vegetables, cleaning up their room, bed time routines, anything else — what are my feelings like towards them and how do they perceive me perceiving them?

And if you pay attention to those feelings, you’ll start to see them more clearly and your love will help you have a more . . . a softer response, and you won’t jeopardize the relationship just for a dang room to get cleaned up, or somebody to get to bed on time.

We have to catch ourselves doing that. A lot of times we want to just use some behavioral tactic. What sort of punishment can I inflict? What sort of bribe can I give them? That doesn’t solve the problem that parents have internally. And that is, maybe I’m carrying around some sort of justification for being angry with my children or upset or . . . How come my children keep doing all these things? Or how come they . . . A lot of times we’re inviting those things by the way we see them.

Dealing with the Problem

I’m not trying to sound really philosophical, but that is absolutely one hundred percent true. So what did I do? I apologized to my children. The next day when that room needed to be cleaned up, I approached it from a much more loving way — and they were invited to join it.

And if that problem kept coming up, then we’d have to have a family meeting where I ask them questions to try to understand their perspective, because I see them as people, and their opinions are legitimate. It doesn’t mean they can get away with whatever they want, but I need to listen and learn, build my relationship, but most importantly I need to work on what’s in here.

Alright! Spend time reflecting, be honest with yourself, don’t let yourself off the hook just thinking that your children are always the problem. The problem is not the behavior. It’s always underneath behavior. Alright! See you next time!