When multiples are the bullies…

It is probably safe to say that all siblings argue, fight, and  bully one another.  You may remember your own battles with siblings.  Sibling arguments occur even in loving families. Arguments have an upside (although it is difficult to see any when the fur is flying and your ears are ringing from the taunting and screaming) and can offer fertile ground for learning to compromise, share, take turns, patience, and sometimes for the aggressors or bullies, to feel badly about their behaviour. Or not.

When children fight, a parent may step in for a variety of reasons:  escalation of the argument, things are getting physical (or dangerous such as throwing things) and someone can really get hurt, the fight has no obvious ending, or the fight is taking place during a car ride, making things dangerous and distracting.  A parent may try to mediate, teach compromise tactics or try to make sense of who did what to whom, and perhaps why.  If the argument began in another room or at school, there is no hope to truly figure out how things began.

When the aggressors or bullies are the multiples, things can really get challenging.  Because of the bond multiples have, they may “gang up” on younger, and even older siblings.  As a gang, they can be a force to be reckoned with.  It doesn’t seem to matter the multiples’ genders as they learn that as a group, they are more apt to be able to enforce their will.

sibling-bullying-thinkstock-100526086-617x416A twin Mom shares she has 10-year old twin boys, a 6-year old boy and 3-year old girl.  The 6-year old tries to emulate his older brothers and they, as a team, pick relentlessly on him causing melt-downs and chaos as a result, “you’re too small; you’re too young,” “such a baby” and so on.  They race ahead knowing their much-younger brother cannot physically keep up.  Younger brother does a lot of screaming, yelling and acting out while the two older brothers “look innocent.”

Another Mom of 12-year old twin boys shares that they relentlessly pick on and irritate their 8-year old sister.  The tears and resulting chaos make their home life next to intolerable.

A Mom with a 12-year old boy, 9-year old girl and 6-year old twin boys shares that even though their twins have a special relationship, they idolize their older brother and want to do whatever he does, giving him no peace.  When they have to go to bed before their older brother, the screams of “It’s not FAIR” reverberate off the walls.  With their combined reactive behaviour, the household is in turmoil.

In some cases, multiples will carry this “gang-type” behaviour into the classroom and school yard.   As a team, they can be formidable and the more they look alike (and are dressed alike?), the teachers may not be able to decide who is actually the culprit.  Punishing both, or all, may happen no matter how many were originally involved.

If these stories reflect some of what may be occurring at your house, there are some ways to deflect the gang-style behaviour and hopefully make it less likely to continue

  • first and foremost, congratulate yourself for reading this article.  You have recognized that there are issues in your household and you are attempting to rectify them.  Good for you!
  • avoid referring to the multiples as “the twins,” “the triplets” and so on.  This reinforces the package deal and in truth, they are individuals who happened to arrive together.  Use the children’s names at all times even when speaking to friends, family and peers to reinforce their individuality.
  • not dressing them alike is helpful to all so that they are not perceived as a package.
  • think about defusing the situation by giving the multiples their own rooms (if possible).  This action gives them less time together to scheme.
  • splitting up play dates, errands, sleepovers dilutes their “power” and helps them learn to separate from each other as well as  dramatically changes the family dynamics.  The bonus is that you get to spend time with each of your children in a completely different fashion.
  • try to put them in separate classes at school.  It will help each (all) develop their own friends and give them less opportunity to get together to collude.
  • foster a relationship between your other children if you have more than one other.  This relationship is also special and can become lost within a multiples’ relationship.  Even if they are different sexes, they can enjoy being and playing together.
  • set aside a “King/Queen for a day” day where each child gets to pick the family activities, chores, perhaps menu, outings.  Making each child feel special is great for self-esteem and learning patience until it is there turn to be in charge.
  • connect with other families in your area with children about the same ages as yours so that they can pair off and each have their own special friends.
  • reinforce common interests amongst all the children.  Depending upon their age ranges, it could be the park, colouring, skiing, skating, sports, music and so on.
  • look for at least one special skill in each of your children and help foster that skill, so that they will feel good about themselves and help them stand separate from their siblings.
  • give your other children the tools to handle bullying.  Screaming and crying only makes things worse. Providing tools to help control their environment empowers each child.  There are some good books and Web Sites to help you with those tools.*
  • making each child a part of the solution and not a part of the problem is not always easy, but is in the best interests of all.  With practice, positivity replaces the negativity and again, empowers each child.  No matter how small the good behaviour, focus on it and unless they are putting each other in physical danger, ignore the bad behaviour.  When one of the multiples is praised for passing the milk to a sibling for example, eventually that praise takes precedence and replaces the behaviour of refusing, ignoring or “you didn’t say please” type of behaviour.
  • realize that what is “fair” is constantly changing over time as your children grow and develop.   It will be affected  by the maturity level and capabilities of each child.  A later bed time, for example, may be negotiated and influenced by behaviour during the day, if it is a school night, and the age of the children.  Flexible and changing rules help children understand that some goals are earned and teaches them about negotiating and consequences.
  • try to keep calm.  Children, even young ones, pick up very quickly on the mood and tensions around them and will try to exploit it to their advantage.  It isn’t always easy but keeping calm, using a low voice, being consistent and working together as partners (i.e. Mom and Dad agreeing with how to handle the situation so the children can’t play one against the other) goes a long way to helping the children remember who is in charge.  If you are really angry about something that has just occurred, indicate, “I am really angry right now and cannot speak to you.  When I have calmed down, we will talk about what just happened.”  This statement lets them know your limits and boundaries, and rather than immediately flying off the handle and doing/saying something rash, taking the time to cool down and revisiting the issue at a later time is the wisest step to take.



  • Parenting School-Age Twins and Multiples, Christina Baglivi Tinglof, McGraw Hill, 2007
  • The Bully and the Bullier and the Bystander:  From Pre-School to High School – How Parents and
  • Teachers Can Help Break the Cycle of Violence, Barbara Coloroso, 2008


Googling Bullying turns up many helpful sites.  I am not listing any here because they change so often.

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