Physical Sibling Abuse

Physical abuse between siblings usually consists of strokes, kicks and pushes. The perpetrator can also bite his/her sibling, tie it, spit at it, pull its’ hair, pinch or scratch it. The tools used by children to abuse their siblings are reportedly, for example, broomsticks, rubber hoses, clothes hangers, hair brushes, belts, sticks or to threaten and/or to cut their siblings with pieces of glass, knives and razor blades or to stab them with scissors.

Sometimes the abuse that children use against their siblings can actually be fatal. This applies, for example, when they throttle, suffocate their siblings or are shooting at it with a shotgun.

A more unusual form of physical abuse is tickling. Since it is the same nerve endings that respond to both pain and tickling, tickling can be painful and will turn into abuse when the victim has no control over the situation. When the victim tells the perpetrator to stop, but the perpetrator continues anyway, then it is a matter of assault. There are cases where children have actually been tickled until they have vomited or peed their pants.

Almost all children will probably hurt themselves at some point, in one way or another, when they play with a sibling. But for it to be regarded as abuse, it must be a conscious act. Should the violation be repeated, one can assume, that the action is conscious and then it is a matter of abuse. Still, sometimes the damage can be of such serious nature that once is enough for it to be perceived as abuse.

Then we have the perpetrator’s reaction. If the perpetrator reacts with laughing when the victim is hurt, one can assume that the action is conscious. If the injury is accidental, the sibling who caused it, usually apologizes immediately. But even if the incident does not cause any harm, it can still be perceived as abuse.

The victims often try to protect themselves from physical abuse by crying and screaming. Sadly, this reaction many times leads to intensified abuse instead. The victims can also react by escaping the abusive siblings or telling their parents what they have suffered or by becoming bullies themselves. If the reaction is to escape the perpetrators, the victims often lock themselves in their rooms or by being away from home as much as possible or to become emotionally inverted.

Unfortunately, the victims can sometimes respond to the ill-treatment by turning on younger and weaker siblings or pets or by starting to bully other children in school. Through the abuse they have suffered, the siblings have learned to become perpetrators themselves and to take out their frustration on defenseless individuals who cannot defend themselves.

In cases where the abused sibling chooses to tell the parents what is going on, the perpetrator may use this as an excuse to expose his/her sibling to further abuse. Then the parents may disregard the abuse and smooth over what has happened, with the fact that it is just a matter of ordinary sibling rivalry. It is also not uncommon for the parents in their turn to respond by blaming the victims for the abuse. Then they might say things like: “You must have done something, for your sibling to behave like that towards you!” They can also react by disciplining both victims and perpetrators. Both ways of reacting often discourage victims from reporting further abuse.

A better way to end the abuse or fight is when parents react by discussing the situation with the involved siblings, then deciding what provoked the misconduct. Then they should end the conversation by presenting different peaceful solutions to address the circumstance and similar conflicts.

Usually when a child is harmed by a sibling, the parents usually comfort it, take care of its’ injuries and then discipline the sibling who performed the injury. The very least one can expect is that the parents try to find out what has happened. But victims who are subjected to physical abuse or even life-threatening injuries have instead reported that their parents have reacted with indifference or even denied the violation. Sometimes they have even blamed the incident on the injured sibling.

Now the entry is over for this time. Please, take care of yourself and others. Thank you. See you if you wish to, next week.


You are welcome to comment if you like, but please do so with respect and good judgment.


Book: Perilous rivalry by Vernon R. Wiehe, Teresa Herring, 1991

Book: Sibling abuse by Vernon R. Wiehe, 1997

© Helén Varenius text and photo