Violence among siblings in everyday family life

Violence among siblings in everyday family life

Violence among siblings in everyday family life

Gertrud Ennulate

Sibling relationships are rich in conflicts involving verbal, hidden and physical violence. I will ask about the causes of their occurrence, but I will also look for reasons why these acts of violence are important for the children involved and why they are tacitly tolerated or condemned by mothers and fathers. Sibling violence has a role in the socialization of children in the family. The corresponding occurrences are not forgotten for a lifetime, sometimes only clarified in adulthood, sometimes never.

No, it’s not an extraordinary phenomenon that I’m writing about. However, it is difficult to look at violence between siblings. Whoever gets involved with my text has put off the pink glasses, has given up the wish for a healthy family and accepts that cleaning up in dark corners. Then a sober and loving look allows the ambivalence of the forces working in a family. This willingness has a very relieving and liberating effect on the family system.

Sibling violence – old hat

I still remember the hour of religion well when the murder story was told by Cain and Abel. Torn between the brother murderer and the victim who was killed, I didn’t know who to show solidarity with. The fatherly God refuses to respect one brother and does not look benevolently at his offering. To this day I have trouble with this zealous God who prefers the gift of one sibling and deeply shames the other. Not being seen, that hurts and hurts because your own person is suddenly seen as unworthy and exposed. Feelings of jealousy, discord and envy increase the inner potential of aggression until it is no longer bearable. In the end, the violence against the brotherly rival unloads.

The Bible continues bloodthirsty. In the story of Josef and his brothers there is indeed a father who favors one of his many sons and makes him Papa’s favorite. This Josef, son of the father’s favorite wife, who died early, grows into his role as a preferred child who feels superior to the older brothers and at the same time brings their hatred and jealousy to a boil. So he becomes a brother to her who is no longer bearable because his presence means unbearable humiliation and shame. Papa’s darling should feel firsthand what he did to his brothers! They throw him into a dry well shaft and want to leave him to his death there. Since these siblings, too, cannot be shoved together, the resistance of a brother, with whom a last bit of family solidarity has been preserved, is announced, and Josef is sold as a slave to a caravan passing by. The violent brothers play an ambiguous game against their father. Josef’s coat soaked in blood makes him believe that his beloved son is dead.

Between love and hate – the range of sibling relationships

Nobody can choose his brother or sister. A boy or girl does not become a sibling by his own decision, but because another child is born in the family. The passive form indicates that moments of suffering can also be associated with it, after all the order of rank of the siblings changes, usually also the number of pats the parents have been accustomed to. Dislikes, rejections, enmity and rivalries are part of everyday bread as soon as more than one child grows up with mother and father. “Every day I have to sit facing this idiot face at meals. Sometimes I could punch in with my fist. I just can’t stand him, that idiot brother! ”The original sound of a 13-year-old to his brother, who is a year younger, is really apt to start the process of disillusionment with sibling relationships.

Of course there is the opposite. An 11-year-old who idolizes his little sister, picks her up from the day care center almost every day and is obviously enchanted by the charm of the little girl, whose favor he is really courting for, says: “Before she was born, it was extremely boring for us. But now there is always something to laugh about with us! ”

There are great contrasts in the quality of sibling relationships; There are hardly any intermediate stages. Obviously, brothers and sisters commute between hot and cold, but are rarely indifferent. So a girl’s statement is not surprising: “I am glad that I have my brother, even if I could turn his neck with some pleasure on some days! He can be so terribly mean and beastly. But I just like him. ”

Siblings form emotionally meaningful relationships with one another and can withstand the tension between love and hate. There is hardly any neutrality. This explains the high level of conflict and controversy in their coexistence. Obviously, they keep creating occasions to free themselves of their tensions. The expressions of sibling disputes are very diverse. Day after day, they invent new variants of the same game: always wiping out the brother or sister, annoying, taking something away, putting lying stories in the family, diminishing the value of the person, playing a bad trick, hiding the cell phone, the girlfriend Relax … In such everyday events, children and adults differ from each other. While the parents are quickly on the palm, reacting annoyed to the tug of the children, the tolerance of the siblings involved seems to be greater. A 14-year-old says matter-of-factly: “If my sister has done such a shit in my room again, I’ll stay really cool, save it, and when I’m really in a bad mood myself, she’ll get it back , afterwards I feel great. That’s how it is with siblings. My mother is freaking out. ”

Even if it annoys adults so much, it is simply that aggression among siblings has a calming function for children. Since it usually takes place within the protected space of the apartment, the opponents are known and predictable, their mistakes and weaknesses can be assessed, a child gains a feeling that it is alive. Pushing, pinching, scratching and biting, pronouncing insults, inflicting minor injuries, children can live with that very well. A 9-year-old says: “So sometimes I get angry with my brother when I strike. The other day, my nose was bleeding too, I was terrified, I was so sorry, and I thought it was good that my brother was sitting next to me at dinner in the evening. ”

This is how everyday life among siblings can look like on some days. Pounding your nose bloody in the morning and lying in bed together in the evening, saying that you’re sorry and experiencing the physical closeness to your brother or sister as something nice and familiar again.

Fighting is fun

Anyone who watches two children wrestling on the floor is astonished at the strength that both exert; Their faces are bright red, sweat runs from their foreheads, they use their hands, feet, body, teeth and tongue, are wedged into one another and afterwards say: “I feel really great. If I’m a winner, even more. Fighting is fun! ”Every fight makes it clear: I have strength, I did it, I am noticed, I am no longer the little, insignificant filth. Since children are concrete in their thinking, physical strength is at the top of their value system. Fights with winners and losers correspond to their view of the world, which is divided into good and bad, black and white. Fighting is fun and violence is very fascinating.

The adult as a witness and judge evaluates the children’s quarrels

The tolerance of the arguing children is usually greater than that of the adults. Why does that upset me? Some mothers or fathers ask. Although you have decided to remain calm and matter-of-fact, you will find sobered that this is not possible. Parents are not in thick knight’s armor or walk through the apartment with an elephant skin, but react to the emotions and violent affects that have been aroused by their children’s quarrel, resist because they have been torn from their own condition, feel how their adrenaline rises, anger rises. Without wanting to, they are infected by the children’s quarrels. Now they have to take a stand, judge the struggle as a just judge and at the same time are disappointed and annoyed, look for words of explanation, start evaluating the behavior of the children, and suddenly the word about violence is there. Startled by the thought of having violent children, fear fantasies roam the apartment. If, on television, the children are more likely to use violence on that day, then the parents and children are doing badly.

From family to family, the boundary to what is called violence is drawn differently. What belongs to the normal aggression among children in one apartment is given the label of violence in the other apartment. Women are more sensitive to physical attacks among siblings than men and use the word violence when talking to children to point out the dangerous nature of what they are doing. There can also be talk of fear, which is associated with the destructive energy of violence suddenly breaking out of a person.

Children need many practice areas to learn how to assert their interests against the resistance of others. At some point they learn that great satisfaction comes from feeling power and increasing meaning as soon as the opponent lies helplessly on the floor and whimpers for mercy. If, at such a moment of victory, a child feels no inhibition in kicking and tormenting the opponent, then it has clearly exceeded the limits of usual aggression and is moving in the area of ​​physical violence, in which deliberate harm, injury or annihilation of the opponent is factored in.

Experiences of violence are characterized by force and overwhelming energies that are difficult to cope with. Violence wants to make small, is ruthless, relentless, aims at intimidation through pressure. Those who suffer violence feel humiliated and their basic trust in themselves and the environment is massively disrupted. A child who has experienced violence is faced with an abundance of feelings that are difficult to bear. In many cases children – as a technique of survival and as protection against their own powerlessness and humiliation – wait for the hour of revenge to erase the injustice and shame they have suffered.

A sibling becomes an ally of a parent

When I look at the system of a family with children from the outside, I am always fascinated by the theater plans that apply there. On some days everyone plays cheerfully and calmly in the comedy arena, on other days bizarre and cabaret-like scenes take place, of which nothing is felt the next day, because it suddenly becomes dramatic. Parents and siblings fight for survival with visible and invisible bandages, look for allies to strengthen their own position, need scapegoats to relieve themselves, are all convinced of the correctness of their behavior and at the same time suspect that things cannot go on like this , Woe to those who come from outside as a visitor. Before he knows it, he is captured and should take sides. But only through a neutral attitude can he bring new impulses into the family structure; everyone can benefit, as the following example shows:

Almost 7 years old, Nadine has been attending the same school as her 12 year old brother for six months. In advance, it was felt that the boy did not like the prospect of having a member of his family at his school. Conflicts and quarrels between the two siblings prevail at home, the girl complains to the mother about the threats with which the older brother keeps intimidating her. One day after school he waits for his younger sister hidden behind a garden wall. When she is close enough, he rushes at her, thrashing her so badly that a neighbor comes out of the apartment, startled. The girl is crying on the floor, holding her hands protectively over her head, but the brother continues to kick her. The neighbor intervenes, takes the girl home and has the courage to speak to the parents.

In this event, the neighbor plays the important role of the person not directly affected. It is not integrated into the family system and thus prevents the incident from being downplayed, which is often the case in many families as a technique for dealing with violent conflicts. Then it says: “I don’t interfere! He didn’t mean that! And besides, children have to take care of their own affairs! Swam about it, let’s not talk about it anymore! ”

The event is not taken seriously. Since many adults pay homage to a false educational ideal that pretends that children are mature and have to regulate their affairs independently, they forget that children first have to acquire these skills and that they have an important accompanying function as adults in these arduous ways. If you cowardly steal responsibility, you will abandon your child because there is no chance of learning how to control violent forces in contact with an adult. It remains alone and runs empty.

The neighbor is not afraid of the conflict situation, and does not deliver the crying child to the door like a postal parcel, but rather informs the mother of what she has seen. In the favorable case, the surprised mother overcomes an ascending feeling of shame and exposure, and does not say, “This is private, it is our business, it has nothing to do with her,” but uses the opportunity to talk. It quickly becomes clear what is going on: Nadine is disappointed that her brother does not notice her at school. She had imagined it so nice to have a big helping brother by her side. Disappointed by this rejection, she begins to badly brother at home. She sneaks to the smoking corner during the long break and prods his misdeeds at home. In this way, the originally family-free school space narrows for the boy.

The girl is proud of the new role of being the extended control body of the mother, enjoys the new special position with the mother, delivers false information, ignores the warnings and threats from her brother, and enjoys the quarrels between mother and son at home , From this, she concludes that she is Mommy’s companion and darling. Her brother fell into the basement in the mother’s favor, especially since she lives in permanent fear, now that he is going through puberty he would inevitably get on the wrong track. When he overpowers his sister on the street, he acts in this sense.

When parents ally with a child to gain insight into the intimacy of the children’s world, it can end badly because there are abuses and violations of boundaries that the children resent, but which they usually cannot defend themselves against. Children need their subsystems because they live in different roles in different places: in the classroom, in kindergarten, on the soccer field, in the piano lesson, on the street … The different facets of their person unfold in their different worlds of children and adolescents. They experience the parents as intruders.

Therefore, children who grow up with siblings in the family also need space for activities without the familiar family members. One girl says drastically: “I think it’s good to grow up with brothers and sisters. But there are days when I can’t smell any of them. If I didn’t have my clique, I think I would go crazy. ”

The marriage war takes place on the street

When there is a crisis in the relationship between mother and father, conflicts, disputes and quarrels dominate everyday life, the fear of the struggle of the parents against each other spreads over the children, then siblings come in need because the desire for solidarity and loyalty almost tears them apart , Torn between mom and dad, coalitions form to stabilize themselves against massively increasing fears of abandonment. The sibling alliances that have so far been reliably assessable are changing.

When the bridge that guarantees love for both parents is no longer accessible, some of the siblings join together in the party I am for mom, the others in the party I am for dad. Faced with deep fear of abandonment, sadness, anger and fainting, the children of both camps learn that they cannot direct their violent feelings against the actual cause. They are trapped and are looking for a replacement. What could be more obvious than directing the concentrated charge of affects from pain and disappointment against brother or sister?

Then, on the battlefield of the Children’s League, battles begin against the brother or sister who takes on Papa’s or Mama’s position in marital disputes. It is not uncommon for violent tensions to arise in violent clashes on the street, the playground, the schoolyard, the bus stop. The discharging anger rages within the sibling relationships. Only in this way can she express herself at all. A girl says: “When our parents started arguing, my mom was often drunk, I was very angry with my brother because he always said that mom is right, Dad is right if she wants to throw him out , I couldn’t hear this anymore because I wanted them to stay together. And then I knocked it green and blue in front of the supermarket. Afterwards I felt really sorry for him. It just came over me. ”

See what’s going on

Dealing with conflicts in the family lays the foundation for the children’s skills in dealing with their aggressive forces. Children are sensitive to whether their parents are avoiding conflicts like the plague, want to inhibit them beforehand and do everything they can to prevent them from breaking out because aggressively colored statements put them in distress. But if parents want to bring out the moral club peace, peace, to extinguish the fire between the quarreling siblings with the slightest differences between their children, then compulsive peacefulness arises, which encourages rather than inhibits the outbreak of violence among siblings.

If you want to do better, observe the behavior of your children to learn to read. It quickly becomes clear how often it is the small wrangling, jostling, teasing and handshakes that multiply over a few days and cause an aggressively charged mood that usually infects the rest of the family. If you want it different, sit down on the floor or at the table with the sibling association and issue the slogan that everyone can now empty their goiter so that the frustration suffered can dissipate. Even if things are chaotic at first, the children are shooting around with the guns of verbal attacks, it quickly becomes clear how the front lines run, how the small animosities escalate, e.g. the one who had scooped up most of the spaghetti is eyed unfavorably by the others and how the child who had a bad grade in the dictation feels laughed at by the nerd brother that another euro has been stolen from one of the drawers, the disorder Only the girls had to tidy up in the bathroom, it was pretty nasty to be pushed off the slide by the sister in the playground.

Siblings have a phenomenally good memory!

When feelings of revenge, jealousy and resentment are aroused, open hostilities show, it should not be forgotten that loyalty among siblings also develops – especially when children experience their parents as caring, understanding and authentic adults. It is helpful for siblings when they learn that mother or father do not judge them as bad and bad children when there is another violent argument in the children’s room. It is a delusion to think that arguing is always fun for children. They are often frightened by the force of their aggression and intend to be more reserved.

Some families cultivate the virtue of open debate. Unpainted, the story tells how painful it is to be excluded or laughed at by the siblings, to be pushed or beaten down the stairs. Finally, the always caring sister can confess how often she is afraid that the big siblings will strike again.

Such conversations help to clarify the structure of sibling relationships and the position of the mother and father. This strengthens the self-confidence of the children among themselves, and gradually a feeling for the differences and similarities of the individual family members arises.

Allow uncomfortable questions

If you observe and question the behavior of your children, you cannot avoid holding up a mirror and asking: “Be honest, how do you deal with the quarrels? Isn’t it sometimes right for a child to get a memo from another? And what are you doing with your anger? Which child are you currently disliking? Who would you like to smack the wall with sometimes? Aren’t you often a calm adult outside, where it sizzles and boils, but must not overflow? ”

A mother says: “I found myself really enjoying it when my little daughter was verbally attacked by the little one. But at some point I noticed that it was like at home like before. I never came up against my big sister. But today the little one manages to kick the big one because of their arrogance. ”This mother identifies with one of the arguing children and thus contributes to reinforcement, because her unspoken toleration keeps fueling the struggle of the sisters.

Violence against sick or disabled siblings

Children who grow up with chronically ill or otherwise handicapped siblings learn from an early age to be considerate. “Usually the first years of a problem child are the most difficult. Visits to the doctor, consultations, therapies tear large holes in the family’s time budget. The problem-free child seems to fit in without contradiction, but hides jealously at the sibling, who is allowed to spend so much time with the mother undivided. ”(1) If the efforts and achievements of healthy children are not appreciated, they feel overlooked and forget, because all eyes only look for the handicapped sibling. What to do with anger at the disabled brother?

In the swimming pool, a girl watches three children ape their disabled brother and caricature his movements. The boy feels the aggressive energy and starts to cry, looking for help to his sister. She goes away, is ashamed of himself and doesn’t want to have anything to do with him. An older woman rebukes the boys and turns to the disabled boy.

"Many siblings of conspicuous children live in a struggle with feelings of guilt." (2) It is particularly important for them to be able to say what bothers them, because in the family’s everyday life the problem child is a rival like any other sibling, but there are special regulations that apply Can arouse jealousy and hostility. When the handicapped child makes violent statements, it is important to take a close look so that the normally developing child is not hastily pilloried.

Sibling conflicts in a dream

Violence among siblings goes wild in many areas of life, including children’s dreams. Their everyday experiences are expressed in them, conflicts are processed and resolved. Children like it very much if they can tell their dreams from time to time. It is a very simple and effective way to defuse the potential for aggression among siblings.

Ron lives in the shadow of an older sister who is a very good student while having learning disabilities. There is friction between them every day. The sister pulls his hair and the boy would like to twist his sister’s neck. What is not possible in reality can look very different in the world of dreams, because the boy dreams that the whole family has been in the dinosaur world and there a dino tore off his sister’s head. The family ran away and left the headless sister. In the end he says: “Then I think it was real. It can really have happened. ”He finally got rid of the sister and has the parents all to himself.

“For Ron, eliminating the sister in the dream brought relaxation. His annoying restlessness had given way that day. In the afternoon he went to the hairdresser, almost got a bald head to protect himself from further attacks. ”(3)


The experience of violence among siblings often has a long-term effect. That is why only the older and older brothers and sisters are able to talk about it in order to give these events a place in their childhood history.


  • Ennulat, G .: When children are different – support for mothers in need, Kösel Verlag 2002 (citations 1 and 2)
  • Ennulat, G .: I want to tell you my dream – talk to children about their dreams, Königsfurt Verlag 2001 (quote 3)
  • Guggenbühl, A .: The uncanny fascination with violence, dtv 1490
  • Bank / Kahn: Sibling bond, dtv 1690

Further contributions by the author here in our family handbook


Gertrud Ennulat, educator, freelance author (died 2008)

Created September 1, 2003, last modified August 5, 2010

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