Innocent sibling rivalry or abuse... what happens when you're not home?

 What do you do when you see siblings fighting with one another? Most families and friends will simply brush this off as a healthy sibling relationship and assume that they will grow out of it in time. Many believe that this sort of behavior will create a bond between the members and will step aside to allow them to figure it out for themselves. For the majority of situations, this is likely to be true and does not need much intervention. But there are many kids who wind up being abused by their siblings because no one is around to monitor the situation, or simply ignore it. This sort of abuse happens every day and has a major effect on the children for the rest of their lives.

Look for signs that your child is experiencing actual harm. Have they started to change their behavior around the house? Are they avoiding their sibling? Are they suddenly quiet when they used to be boisterous? Perhaps they have become aggressive or started causing trouble somehow? Do you see unusual bruising on their body? Depression is likely to develop as they start to feel defeated and trapped in the situation. Often they will not know how to express their feelings to their parents and feel forced to stay quiet about what is happening. The other child, who is usually older, may have tried to manipulate them into staying quiet as well. One way this happens is by telling the child that they are weak if they complain, that this is all just fun and games and if they can’t handle it then they aren’t strong enough. Another way is the abusive child may find out something embarrassing about them that they do not want getting out to their parents and using this information to hold the child hostage from saying a word. There are many ways that a sibling can manipulate another into staying quiet. Keep your eyes and ears open and try not to brush it off if you notice these sorts of changes in your child.

Listen to your intuition. If you have a feeling that something isn’t right, it probably isn’t. Talk to your child in an environment where they feel safe, usually away from the house (if the sibling lives in the home). It is possible that the child will not know how to explain what is happening or feel like if they do say something, it may only get worse for them. In this case, pay close attention to what is happening between the two children, possibly changing your routine so that you can keep a close watch. This sort of situation tends to develop more often when both parents are working away from home and the older children are told to take care of the younger ones until the parents return home. Be particularly mindful in these situations as what you see when you return home may not be what goes on when you are gone. Look for behavior changes in your children. Sometimes it may be necessary to take the children to a counselor as they may feel safer to talk to a stranger about what is happening. Simply talking to SOMEONE about what is happening can help a great deal. A counselor is trained in these sorts of situations and can gently guide the child in overcoming the abuse. They will be able to give you situation-specific advice on how you can manage what is going on in a way that will not harm the children further.

Researching sibling abuse can help you to understand what is happening, better recognize the signs, and find ways to remedy the situation to the best of your ability. Here are some resources for you to start with:

University of Michigan

A great overview with facts about sibling rivalry versus abusive behavior.

Psychology Today

Article about Sibling Bullying and Abuse, with a link to what you can do about it.


Personal accounts from those who have gone through abuse from their siblings.

Irish Times

Article about Sibling bullying with various statistics and explanations about the situations people find themselves in.

Homeschool Alumni Reaching Out

Various types of sibling abuse, including sexual abuse by a sibling.


If your child informs you of a situation that is bothering them, please take it seriously. The worst thing you can do is tell the child that they are lying or that you don’t believe them. Investigate the situation and find out for yourself what is happening. Until you know for sure that something is NOT true, act as if it IS for the child who speaks up. SOMETHING is happening for them to say this to you. Take it seriously.

When in the midst of an abusive situation, it may be difficult to think clearly and come up with a solution to remedy the abuse, while trying to implement it may feel almost impossible. However, given the right tools and the will power to create change, it most certainly is possible, even more so– it is probable. Many may feel overwhelmed and may not know where to start, but it is important to start somewhere.

Please continue to check in with us each week for a new post about abusive behavior and how it can affect your life and the lives of those around you. There is always that first action to helping someone you care about. Let this be it!


Author Bio - Anna Czarska is a writer and actor who has 15+ years of experience dealing with various situations of abuse. She has pursued business ventures and creative pursuits as well as spending time to study psychology in both formal and personal education. For more information, you may find her Linkedin profile here:

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published