Talking Sibling Mistreatment: Respect and Bullying Both Begin at Home by J.W. Hedderman, Esq. 

Photo by Annie Spratt

Photo by Annie Spratt


I was prompted to write after coming across an article in Psychology Today on sibling treatment and self esteem.  As a parent of now teenagers, I am amazed still about one area of parenting that seems to be ignored as “normal” and in my opinion is the root of bullying and other bad behavior later in life.  That is sibling mistreatment.  I can’t tell you how many times I heard over the years that “boys will be boys” and kids who were beating up on each other, calling each other names, saying really mean and unkind things to each other and other disrespect was a “normal” part of the pecking order for children to learn.  I have always, and continue to disagree.  We behave as we learn at home and what we learn at home is taken out into school and beyond.  While my upbringing was strict, we were not allowed to mistreat each other.  With three brothers, who were rambunctious, that was challenging, but we just were not allowed to beat on each other or mistreat each other.


When I went to school and experienced bullying, it was foreign to me.  When I had kids, I had the same rules: respect and kindness. While this was controlled to some degree, the times my kids were alone and went at it are the times that they remember as “painful” and hurting their self-esteem since it lessened the feeling of safety and trust at home.  The times my kids were in “recess” and bullied were times they remembered.  The unfairness, the humiliation, the shock at how cruel kids could be.  Now with so much “unmonitored” social media, bullying is rampant and many of it would subject the kids and parents to legal action.  I monitored my kids social media and was shocked at what kids said to each other since there was no supervision or consequences.


Mothers often commented on how they were shocked that my kids did not kill each other and genuinely got along.  When their kids were bullying my kids, however, they were equally shocked when I mentioned that their kids were bullies.  But when you looked at how they interacted as a family, my kids said that the parents were constantly picking at each other and the kids were always picking at each other and saying really nasty things.  It was habituated behavior.  How can you expect kids “not” to bully if what they learn is “how” to bully. Kids don’t “grow out of it”.  Know that even though most of the bullies have since “apologized” for their bad behavior, the pain still exists.  The memories are dulled, but still painful. Disrespect leaves scars.  My kids aren’t perfect.  I know they have left similar scars on others, but when they talk about it, they are at least aware of it and it has changed them.  


In my opinion, bullying, domestic abuse, domestic violence, rape, racism, bigotry, discrimination all have the same genesis:  habituated behavior learned in childhood.  While families cannot be “perfect” learning “respect” for parents and siblings, learning to support rather than rip apart, learning to compliment rather than humiliate and learning kindness towards siblings, even if you don’t like each other, is a critical foundation that would substantially improve “humanity” later on. 


When you watch any crime drama, CSI, Criminal Minds, Law and Order, the resounding “background” of those who break the law, murder, or otherwise end up making really bad decisions comes from “pain”.  Pain of rejection, pain of mistreatment, pain from bullying, pain from discrimination, pain from incest, pain from man’s inhumanity to man.  All of it.  Very few acts of violence come from sociopaths with predispositions to killing or harming.  Most come from “normal” people who suffered severe pain and could not assimilate and process that pain and it came out later as horrible or misguided acts.  We then blame them for being criminals and misfits, and we humiliate them.  But every one of them, with very few exceptions, have suffered some harm in their past that has turned into their current choices.  What we teach today will result in actions in the future.


Every act of violence against the United States, in schools, at social events, at work locations emanates from pain and rejection.  While we can condemn the act, and we can even condemn the person, we cannot be naïve and not investigate and seek understanding about the “why” in order to prevent similar acts in the future.  As a nation we have not done enough homework in this area even though the facts are all around us. 


People don’t need to “duke it out” or “fight it out”.  It is not a chicken coop in which there needs to be a “pecking order”.  Kindness matters.  Always.  Through this teaching, which has nothing to do with religion, but humanity, humans learn to treat each other better.  Men would learn to treat women better and not be focused on “power” and proving masculinity. Women would be seen as equals rather than having to fight for a space. We are what we are taught and what we choose to learn.  All the hate and anger that is permeating our world stems from deep seated feelings of inequity and disrespect.


As mothers, fathers and caregivers, we have an enormous responsibility to parent and caregiver responsibly, since we are building the future.  We are creating the foundation for the future leaders or the future abusers. Will in some instances even the kindest upbringing will be rejected by a child and they will choose a different path, we collectively have an amazing opportunity to make a huge impact on the future by teaching empathy, kindness and compassion.  Not the “foo foo” “earthy crunchy” “love everyone” bubbly attitude.  But rather the complete and clear understanding that, we all are equal.  We all deserve respect.  That I will treat others with respect even if they don’t respect me.  That when I am attacked I will stand my ground and say it is disrespectful, but I won’t resort to the same behavior.  I will be the example.


Acceptance and respect begins at home.  Changing the paradigm that respect is the most powerful behavior we can show and that bullying is a sign of weakness and ignorance, may begin to turn the tide around. There will always be gangs that learn the opposite. There will always be families, schools, work environments that don’t have safe environments.  But the world is slowly moving to a place in which disrespect and inequity are “less” acceptable.  We can really help continue this process of increasing humanity in how we parent. It’s hard.  It takes patience and compassion.  We will often fail when we are tired or stressed, but even if we just commit to thinking about it and talking about it, we have changed the course of history.  Think about it….