New research suggests that sibling aggression may lead to poor mental health among children and adolescents.
Sibling aggression, or fights between siblings, is often dismissed as simply being a part of growing up with brothers or sisters.
Yet a new study from researchers at the University of New Hampshire finds that sibling aggression is associated with significantly worse mental health in children and adolescents. In some cases, effects of sibling aggression on mental health were the same as those of peer aggression.
“Even kids who reported just one instance had more mental health distress,” said Corinna Jenkins Tucker, Ph.D., associate professor of family studies at the University of New Hampshire.
“Our study shows that sibling aggression is not benign for children and adolescents, regardless of how severe or frequent.”
The study, published in the journal Pediatrics, is among the first to look at sibling aggression across a wide age and geographic range, is unique in its size and scope.
Tucker and her co-authors analyzed data from the center’s National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence (NatSCEV), a national sample of 3,599 children, ages one month through 17.
Researchers looked at the effects of physical assault with and without a weapon or injury, property aggression like stealing something or breaking a siblings’ things on purpose, and psychological aggression such as saying things that made a sibling feel bad, scared, or not wanted around.
Investigators found that of the 32 percent of children who reported experiencing one type of sibling victimization in the past year, mental health distress was greater for children (1 month to age 9) than for adolescents (age 10 – 17) who experienced mild sibling physical assault.
But children and adolescents were similarly affected by other psychological or property aggression from siblings.
Their analyses also showed that, while peer aggression like bullying is generally thought to be more serious than sibling aggression, sibling and peer physical and psychological aggression had independent effects on mental health.
The mental health of those experiencing property and psychological aggression, whether from siblings or peers, did not differ.
Researchers say that parents and caregivers should take sibling aggression seriously.
“If siblings hit each other, there’s a much different reaction than if that happened between peers,” Tucker said. “It’s often dismissed, seen as something that’s normal or harmless. Some parents even think it’s beneficial, as good training for dealing with conflict and aggression in other relationships.”
This research indicates that sibling aggression is related to the same serious mental health effects as peer bullying.
The authors suggest that pediatricians take a role in disseminating this information to parents at office visits, and that parent education programs include a greater emphasis on sibling aggression and approaches to mediate sibling conflicts.
Source: University of New Hampshire