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Fights Among Siblings May Lead to Depression, Anxiety in Children

Update Date: Dec 20, 2012 09:13 AM EST

Having a sibling is a true blessing in terms of time one spends with a brother or a sister during childhood. Even when parents may be busy or may not understand your little problems, your sibling is most likely to help you get out of your problems. However, siblings also tend to have their small little squabbles over things like unwanted borrowing of a clothing item, or arguments over fairness, such as whose turn it is to play a new video game etc. Although adults mostly do not think of these squabbles as anything to be concerned about, a new study suggests that these arguments between children represent two specific types of sibling conflicts that can have different effects on a youth's emotional health.

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The study by a psychologist from University of Missouri suggests that the findings of this research may help parents better understand how to bring peace among children and at home, and how to encourage healthy psychological development in 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."

For the study, the researchers recruited and observed 145 pairs of mostly European-American, middle-class siblings for one year. On an average, the pairs of children were aged 12 and 15 years.

The fights between the children were categorized into two subjects: violations of personal domain or conflicts over fairness and equality. The researchers then investigated into the correlations among the arguments and teens' reports of depressed mood, anxiety and self-esteem, one year later.

"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 favorites. 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."

However, the researchers noted that their study may have limitations as the subjects of their study were largely white, middle-class Americans. They say that children belonging to other cultures and economic classes may have different relationships and demands of privacy, fairness and emotional well-being. Even though in some households, children may not have room for themselves, but they would still want their privacy to be respected by both- 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."

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