With Christmas on the way, millions of kids will get many many gifts. Accompanying these gifts are sibling squabbles like “Hey that’s mine”, “I want yours”, “Why did you take that?”, “That’s not fair!”. Those quarrels represent two kinds of sibling conflict that can have differing effects on a youth’s emotional health, as per a multi-year study by a University of Missouri psychologist. Parents can learn how to bring peace to the home and foster a healthy psychological development in their children.
“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,” said Nicole Campione-Barr, MU assistant professor of psychological science in the College of Arts and Science. “Conflicts over issues of equality and fairness are correlated to greater depression one year later.”
Campione-Barr and her colleagues conducted a research on 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, and informed the researchers about the frequency and intensity of the arguments. The arguments were categorised into two groups: violations of personal domain or conflicts over fairness/equality. The team then tried to correlate the arguments and teens’ depressive mood/anxiety/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,” said Campione-Barr. “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.”
Campione-Barr also reminded parents that one shortcoming of her study was that it was the limited demographic sample — white, middle-class American families. Other cultures and economic classes may have a different relationships within the family. Adolescents, for exanple, in some households may not have their own rooms, they still need some degree of respect for personal space from parents and siblings.
“The next step in our research will be to examine the positive aspects of relationships among adolescent siblings and parents,” said Campione-Barr. “Strong, healthy family relationships are immensely beneficial later in life. For example, there are things people will tell their siblings that they would never tell their parents, or possibly even friends. We are currently studying disclosure and levels of trust among parents, siblings and peers.”