Is sibling rivalry a bad thing?

20 June 2013
Posted by David Weston.

If you have a brother or sister you will probably be familiar with the arguments that typically occur in the average household when you were growing up. In fact, many people acknowledge these kinds of spats are a typical part of growing up: siblings always fight with each other right?

New research published in Pediatrics, this month suggests that effects of siblingHuman eyesight - two children and ball with retinitis pigmentosa or tunnel vision aggression can be more significant than once thought. Lead author Corinna Jenkins Tucker and her colleagues at the University of New Hampshire have been looking at the relationship between sibling aggression and mental health

Using information from the telephone interviews of over 3 and a half thousand children under the age of 17, Tucker and her colleagues looked at three types of sibling aggression: physical assault, either with or without a weapon or injury, property aggression, behaviours like stealing or breaking a siblings' possessions, and finally psychological aggression, behaviours like name-calling or saying mean things. They found that children who had experienced sibling aggression in the past year were more likely to be mentally distressed than those who did not experience sibling aggression. This effect was seen even if the children only experience one of the three types of sibling aggression, but this effect was greater in those experiencing 2 or 3 types of aggression.

Although these findings may not be particularly surprising, they are representative of the first large scale study looking at sibling aggression, which the authors suggest is under-represented in the scientific literature. People essentially assume that sibling aggression is much less important than peer aggression, when a child experiences bullying at schools from classmates for example, but the authors of this paper compared the effects of sibling aggression and peers aggression and found that the effects could be similar!

The conclusion is that we should be carefully looking for the effects of sibling aggression as these data suggest it is not as benign as people think.

Association of Sibling Aggression With Child and Adolescent Mental Health

Tucker et al. (2013) Pediatrics, 2012-3801; published ahead of print, June 17, 2013,doi:10.1542/peds.2012-3801

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