A new University of Missouri research study shows that sibling conflict can lead to depression and anxiety. Now, this research is not saying the occasional argument or disagreement is a problem; rather, this study is highlighting that on-going, persistent fighting can have long lasting effects on an individual’s mental health.
It is also worth noting that conflict is different from sibling rivalry. Rivalry is about “one upping” the other sibling, which in some cases can actually be a positive motivating factor. Healthy competition can push kids to be better.
There are two main types of conflict that can have long lasting emotional impact. The effects can last into adolescence and adulthood.
- Violations of personal space and property can cause one to be overly anxious if these intrusions are consistent. This is the worry associated with somebody entering your room or using your personal things.
- Continual conflicts over issues of equality and fairness can also lead to depression. A child that feels like they are continually treated unfairly will often suffer low self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness.
Common sense tells us that continual conflict is detrimental; this study reports findings that most of us already know. The real implication or benefit of the research is studying how we should respond to these types of sibling disputes. It is a parent’s natural instinct to want to be the arbitrator of the argument. This is the wrong way to solve these dilemmas.
Tips to assist with avoiding conflict
- Set specific household rules—knock before entering a room, create chore calendars, have predetermined times for video games, etc. Parents should discuss among themselves the continual conflict triggers they see among their kids and create specific rules to avoid those problems.
- Don’t be a referee. Things will happen that are not covered by the household rules. When conflicts arise, tell your children they need to walk away from the situation and provide an immediate consequence such as no video games tonight, both go to your room. etc. Don’t buy into the conflict because it could force you to take sides.
- Defuse the jealousy. A child who feels like he is treated unfairly may often be jealous of the other sibling. Redirect your child’s jealousy concerns by acknowledging it is normal to occasionally be jealous but also highlight something they do well. This will make the child feel valued and can ultimately increase self-esteem.
- Model appropriate behavior. Parents are role models. Be supportive of your spouse, solve appropriate disagreements in front of your children so they learn how to resolve conflict.
The bottom line here is to pay attention to your kids. Rivalry, conflict, jealousy, etc. are part of normal family life. Your parental job is to help your children to manage their feelings and learn how to function. Send the message that we are family and we help each other. If the problem becomes too much to handle and the conflicts become overly intense, seek professional help to avoid long term consequences. Home should always be a safe place to work things out.