How many times have you heard, "That’s mine!" Or, "Get out!" bellowing from your children’s rooms? Turns out, sibling squabbles could be more problematic than you think — and your involvement could be making the situation even worse.

If your children are like most, they argue. And depending on where they fall in the process of going through puberty, the tiffs could be more often than not. Someone borrowed a precious piece of clothing. One of your children barged into the other's room without knocking. Your son doesn't get your daughter and vice versa. So when should these arguments concern you? A recent study in the journal Child Development looked at sibling squabbles and determined that, in some cases, they can lead to depression and anxiety.

The study

The study conducted by University of Missouri researchers looked at 145 pairs of siblings, average ages 12 and 15, over the course of a year and found that many of their fights were about equality and fairness (such as whose turn it is to empty the dishwasher).

Researchers learned that teens who fought with siblings over equality and fairness had higher levels of depression a year later, while those who fought over personal space issues were more anxious and had lower self-esteem.


Researchers learned that teens who fought with siblings over equality and fairness had higher levels of depression a year later, while those who fought over personal space issues were more anxious and had lower self-esteem. Younger brothers with older brothers and girls with brothers had more anxiety, while teens with an opposite gender sibling had lower self-esteem.

While the results related to depression were found in all adolescents, the results related to anxiety and self-esteem appeared to be more detrimental for some siblings than others: younger brothers with older brothers and girls with brothers had more anxiety, and teens in mixed-gender sibling pairs had lower self-esteem.

Should you stay on the sidelines or should you referee?

After hearing about this study, of course you don't want your children to fight — ever. Not that you did before, but the thought of the arguing leading to a child suffering from depression or anxiety is enough to rattle any parent. But, still, should you intervene when your kids are going head-to-head?

As much as you want to stop the screaming and rectify the situation (for their wellbeing and yours), most experts agree that you should not get involved.

If a parent is constantly stepping into fights then the children never know how work things out themselves or they work things out in destructive ways.

According to the Nemours Foundation, you should step in only if there's a danger of physical harm. If you always intervene, you risk creating other problems. There's the risk that you — inadvertently — make it appear to one child that another is always being "protected," which could foster even more resentment. By the same token, rescued kids may feel that they can get away with more because they're always being "saved" by a parent.

David Simonsen, M.S., LMFT says, "The ultimate goal is to grow a young adult that knows how to get along with others. If a parent is constantly stepping into fights then the children never know how to work things out themselves or they work things out in destructive ways."

Is there any way to minimize the fighting?

Even though the arguing may be normal, it doesn't make it any easier to listen to. Experts may feel that it's best for parents to stay out of most arguments while they're occurring, but there must be something a mom or dad can do to help cut down on the amount of tension between the siblings.

Teach your kids to tolerate another person's point of view even if it is different from their own.

According to a press release about the study,  "It may be possible to avoid sibling conflicts by recognizing that adolescents desire more privacy as they strive for greater independence. In addition, structured tradeoffs in chore duties and equal time with shared household items (like computer/video games) give siblings fewer opportunities to compare themselves unfavorably to one another," says Nicole Campione-Barr, assistant professor of psychological sciences at the University of Missouri, the study's lead author.

And don't forget that your children are always watching how you conduct yourself in your day-to-day life. "Parents need to teach negotiation and lead by example. If the parent isn't able to do it with other adults, the kids will pick up on that," says Simonsen.

Dr. Fran Walfish adds, "Teach your kids to tolerate another person's point of view even if it is different from their own."

More on siblings

Tame sibling rivalry
Helping siblings play nice
Sibling bonding

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