Sibling squabbles represent two specific types of conflicts that can have different effects on a youth’s emotional health, researchers say. According to a multi-year study by a University of Missouri psychologist, parents can learn how to bring peace to the home and encourage their children’s healthy psychological development with these findings.
“Our results show that conflicts about violations of personal space and property are associated with greater anxiety and lower self-esteem one year later in life,” Nicole Campione-Barr said. “Conflicts over issues of equality and fairness are correlated to greater depression one year later,” she said.
Campione-Barr and her colleagues studied 145 pairs of mostly European-American, middle-class siblings for one year. The average ages for the pairs were 15 and 12 years. The teens rated different topics of possible conflict, noting the frequency and intensity of the arguments.
The arguments were organized into two categories - violations of personal domain or conflicts over fairness and equality. The study then examined correlations among the arguments and teens reports of depressed mood, anxiety and self-esteem after one year.
“Although parents may be inclined to step in as arbiters, previous research has found that parents’ interventions into adolescent sibling conflict can be detrimental,” Campione-Barr said. “In concert with those prior findings, we believe our research suggests that setting household rules such as ‘knock before entering a sibling’s room’, can be the best means for parents to resolve disputes and avoid appearing to play favourites.
“A calendar of chores and defined time limits for turns with a video game can help reduce conflicts over fairness. However, if a parent notes that one child consistently gets the short end of the stick, action should be taken to ensure one child isn''t being too subordinate. “Also, if most sibling interactions become intense conflicts, a family should seek professional help, especially if violence is involved,” she said.
Campione-Barr noted that one limitation to her study was that it was largely constrained in its demographic scope to white, middle-class Americans. Other cultures and economic classes may have different relationships among privacy, fairness and emotional well-being. Although adolescents in some households may not have their own rooms, they still need some degree of respect for personal space from both parents and siblings.
The study has been published in the journal Child Development.