The school bully is often the victim of bullying from his or her OWN FAMILY!

Can a child who gets bullied by a sibling become a bully at school? “Absolutely, bullied siblings have a higher risk factor of becoming a bully,” says Dr. Marilyn Benoit, MD, the Chief Clinical Officer and SVP of Clinical & Professional Affairs of Devereux, one of the largest not-for-profit behavioral healthcare organizations in the country.

Dr. Benoit has a family practice as a child and adolescent psychiatrist.

Not all kids, who are bullied by a sibling, of course, will go on to be a mean kid at school. But the psychology behind this is quite easy to grasp.

“It goes back to the old saying of ‘what happens to you, you do to others,’” says Dr. Benoit.

“The bullied child feels wronged by their sibling and powerless at home. When they see kids at school who are disempowered or even have special needs, they see an opportunity (however temporary) to feel powerful and become a bully at school.”

Dr. Benoit points out that bullies aren’t so different from their victims. “In fact, victims of bullies have a greater likelihood of become bullies themselves,” she says.

“I’ve seen many cases where parents are working [outside the home] and rely on older siblings to take on a parental role and watch their younger siblings.”

This can be a setup for disaster, with the older sibling abusing their power (and the cause of that can be learned behavior from the way the parent treats them).

“This can lead to sibling bullying, often for a majority of a child’s life, and can result in school failure and the younger sibling developing antagonistic characteristics,” says Dr. Benoit.

If the victim at home isn’t a bully at school, don’t assume that the sibling issue is benign.

The marks created by being emotionally abused or physically harassed by an older brother or sister can cause deep, permanent marks that cause lifelong instability  —  issues that may be invisible to outsiders, such as substance abuse, trouble committing to relationships, difficulty making friends, gravitation towards abusive partners, depression and many other types of fallout.

Dr. Benoit is past president of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and has provided Congressional testimony on issues including child abuse, teen pregnancy and youth suicide.