Healthy Living

Unresolved Sibling Rivalry Can Lead to Anxiety and Depression

Sibling fights occur in almost every house and are often harmless arguments, however, if left unresolved these small fights can lead to anxiety and depression among children, says a new study.

The study, conducted by researchers from University of Missouri, found that children who feel they haven't been given personal space or equal status tend to grow up with mental issues.

"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. Conflicts over issues of equality and fairness are correlated to greater depression one year later," said Nicole Campione-Barr, MU assistant professor of psychological science in the College of Arts and Science in a statement.

The study included 145 pairs of mostly European-American, middle-class siblings. Children were asked to rate their fights in the order of intensity and frequency. Siblings' arguments were classified as either violation of personal space or violation of equality and fairness.

Researchers also assessed children's levels of depression and anxiety a 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.

Campione-Barr recommended that parents set up rules that are equal to all children. All children would want to have a certain personal space and one good way of ensuring this would be to teach some rules like "knock before entering a sibling's room."

Parents can even make a list of chores that are then distributed among children equally and the same goes with taking turns to play video games. However, if parents feel that one child is consistently getting bullied or being given an unequal share, they can take action to resolve the issue. Campione-Barr added that if conflicts between children become too intense and often end in physical violence, professional help maybe needed.

Researchers said that one of the major limitations of the study is the narrow demographic it was based on.

Further studies on the same topic will focus on positive aspects of relationships between teenage children and their parents, Campione-Barr said.

"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," concluded Campione-Barr.

The study is published in the journal Child Development.

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