How does an outsider see if a child is exposed to sibling abuse?

It should be noted that a child who is exposed to sibling abuse doesn’t need to show all of characters below. Just one of them is enough, but many times the child shows more than one of the signs simultaneously.

  • The child is always trying to avoid his/her sibling.
  • The child has behavioral changes. The changes in the child’s personality can occur as quickly as in just one week and is lasting.
  • The child develops insomnia.
  • The child develops a fear of the dark and suddenly begins to have nightmares.
  • That the child changes his/her eating habits.
  • The child starts acting out the abuse in his/her games.
  • The child begins to behave in a sexually inappropriate manner.
  • The siblings’ roles are defined in such a way that one of the children is always the attacker and the other, the victim.
  • The brutality or violence between the siblings escalates over time.
  • The abused child is often sad and is trying to talk to someone about his/her depression, but cannot because the offender is always nearby.
  • The child begins to mistreat a pet, a younger sibling or other children.
  • The child has sudden crying spells for no apparent reason and behaves generally in an anxious way.
  • The child is afraid of things that do not scare other children
  • The child becomes a bed-wetter
  • The child has a destructive or not socially accepted behaviour.
  • The child has difficulties with peer relationships.
  • The child appears to have low self-esteem.
  • The child has an extroverted and aggressive behaviour.
  • The child is frightened by sudden movements or touch.
  • The child appears to avoid or is frightened by the thought of going home.
  • The child is vigilant and always on the alert.
  • The child becomes quiet and withdrawn and just wants to be left alone. (Sibling sexual abuse)
  • The child has trouble walking or sitting. (Sibling sexual abuse)
  • The child expresses or shows an interest in sex that is not consistent with his/her age or context. If the child appears to have a knowledge of sex that is beyond normal. (Sibling sexual abuse)
  • If the child does not want to change clothes in front of others or avoid physical activity. (Sibling sexual abuse)

How do parents discover if sibling abuse occurs among their children?

There are many who find it difficult to distinguish sibling abuse from the usual sibling disputes so I will therefore give you some clues.

  • If a child exhibits an intentional disregard against a sibling when exposing the sibling of an offensive action and thus showing that he/she is completely ignoring the fact that the sibling may be injured or harmed, then it is a question of abuse.
  • If a child is deliberately trying to hurt another sibling, then it is a question of abuse.
  • If a child is hurt or at risk of being hurt by the act of the sibling, then it is also a question of sibling abuse.

For an event to be considered as maltreatment, it shall be perceived and constitute a violation of the victim. When abuse occurs the offensive action is often repeated several times, but sometimes the individual act in itself can be so rough that just once it is enough, for it to count as abuse.

Children solve their conflicts in different ways depending on how old they are and in what stage of development they are. Therefore, parents must first try to determine whether the children’s brawl simply is their way of trying to settle a disagreement. Do they then judge that the child’s behaviour is an isolated incident or part of a pattern? Are both parties of the siblings quarrel even or is the relationship characterized by secrecy and an imbalance of power and/or age? Finally the parents must try to determine the purpose of the siblings’ quarrel. Is the purpose of the row to humiliate and dominate or try to resolve the conflict?

If the behavior of the attacker seems to be a part of a pattern, if the relationship between the siblings is characterized by secrecy and an imbalance of power and the goal of the row appears to be to dominate and humiliate, then it is a question of sibling abuse!

It is important that parents learn to determine whether sibling abuse occurs among their children or not, since they have the ultimate responsibility for making the children feel safe at home and not coming to any harm. In cases where there is doubt, whether sibling abuse is taking place or not, it is probably wise to protect the victim.

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.


© Helén Varenius – text and photo