Although a certain amount of squabbling is normal in siblings, fighting over personal privacy and property can lead to anxiety and depression in adolescents, a new study finds. To make things more complicated, parents’ interventions often make matters worse.
The study, published in the journal Child Development, found that specific types of sibling fighting correlated to a greater likelihood of depression a year later. The types of fights that were problematic included:
- Unwanted borrowing (“Hey, that’s my sweater!”)
- Issues of personal space (“Get out of my room!”)
- Issues of fairness (“It’s my turn to play the video game” or “It’s your turn to do the dishes.”)
Lead study author Nicole Campione-Barr, a psychology professor at the University of Missouri, said that while parents mean well, sometimes their interventions only make things worse, and that it’s better to set up rules that prevent some of these squabbles in the first place.
“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,” she said in a University of Missouri press release.
Other suggestions to parents that came out of the study:
- 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.
- If most sibling interactions become intense conflicts, a family should seek professional help, especially if violence is involved.
Because we live in a small house, my kids do share bedrooms. The whole “knock first” idea becomes even more critical, I think, when sharing small spaces. It’s hard for kids to knock first when it’s their own room, but it’s important that everyone feels like they have some privacy. I also made curtains that go around each of their bunk beds so that they can have their own space. Our house rule is that the kids can’t go on each others’ beds without permission. Especially when sharing a bedroom, they need some space that belongs to them.
We also use timers when the kids all want to use the same thing, such as the family computer, and take turns deciding what to watch on TV. Sometimes we’ll vote on things, but not often: three of the four kids would always choose to watch Harry Potter movies, and that would leave the fourth kid never getting to choose something else.
What do you do to help keep things fair in your house? Leave your suggestions in the comments!
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