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Let'Em Fight: Sibling Rivalry Eventually Pays Off

sibling rivalry, childhood development

Let your kids duke it out and they'll find life in the boardroom easier.

Of  all the child development studies that have come out recently, the conclusion of a new study on sibling rivalry is the one I’ll cling to most.

The bottom line: my kids’ constant bickering, frequent shouting and occasional suckerpunch is has a pay off.

Even better? The less I get involved, the better.

The five-year study by the University of Cambridge’s Centre for Family Research found that children who fight and compete with their siblings are more likely to develop problem-solving and social skills that will benefit them in the workplace. Researchers found that kids who grew up in competing and fighting (within reason, of course!) at home were better able to stand up for themselves and were better able to give and take while resolving conflict as adults.

One key was that siblings had to develop a way to resolve problems without one sibling always giving in to the other. In families where the order of things is up-ended — usually when the younger manages to get her way once in a while — the social skills of all the children are enhanced.

From the Independent:

“The more combative siblings are, and the more they argue and the older child puts the younger one down, the more they are learning complex lessons about communication and the subtleties of language,” says Dr Claire Hughes author of a new book, Social Understanding and Social Lives, which is based on the research.

The study looked at children’s cognitive and social development between the ages of two and six.

“The more the children upset each other, the more they learn about regulating their emotions and how they can affect the emotions of others,” says Dr Hughes.

“The more they point-score, the more it can motivate them to achieve.”

Ahhh, but there’s such a thing as too much rivalry.

“If sibling rivalry gets out of hand, it can be very negative. Persistent violence is a strong predictor that the aggressive child will bully their peers,” says Dr Hughes.

“I don’t want to be the woman who says it’s good if your children hate each other, but parents might take some sort of comfort, when their children are fighting, in the discovery that they are learning valuable social skills and intelligence which they will take outside the home.”

My kids fight, what feels like, all the time. And it’s exhausting to listen to. For a long time, I felt like I had to intervene in conflicts between my two oldest. They’re four years apart and it was kind of disconcerting to watch a 6-year-old tussling with a 2-year-old. But in the past couple of years, though the fighting has escalated in intensity and frequency, I’ve backed out, often because it never seemed to help, I was never sure what to do and I always felt like I was making the oldest give in to the youngest.

More recently, I leave them on their own. Someone will come screaming to Mommy or Daddy if they can’t figure it out, which they usually do. I’m glad to know the fact that I’ve pretty much given up actually has an upside.

How do you handle bickering and fighting among your kids?

Photo: mmarchin via flickr

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