Study: Sibling Rivalry Can Lead To Depression

Columbia, Miss. (CBS ST. LOUIS) — Anxiety, depression and low self-esteem are all at risk during the holiday season for siblings fighting amongst themselves.

A University of Missouri study published Thursday in the Child Development journal finds that siblings sparring for personal space and equality is increased during the holiday season. “Equality and fairness” issues are brought to a breaking point, and competition over simple chores can trigger negative emotions.

The study involves 145 pairs of mostly caucasian, middle-class siblings, who were followed for over one year starting in either Grade 8, 10 or 12. The majority of pairs were two years apart and lived in the same home. Researchers then asked the siblings to describe their conflicts, noting frequency and how intense or “hot” the fights were. The authors didn’t ask questions such as, “Who started it,” knowing it would lead to completely opposite responses.

When asked about self-esteem, researchers found that siblings who fought over equality and fairness were more depressed a year later, while those who bickered about personal space were more anxious and had lower self-esteem a year later.

“It has to do with how they interpret these conflicts and what these issues mean to them,” Nicole Campione-Barr, the study’s lead author and an assistant professor of psychological sciences at the University of Missouri, told The Globe and Mail.

With non-stop fights around equality and fairness, siblings can start believing “they’re not getting their fair share of family resources,” Campione-Barr said. “They might not feel they stack up nearly as highly against their sibling, who might be procuring more of those resources.”

Campione recommends that parents never take singular sides in such sibling squabbles.

She writes that mothers and fathers should brace for these fights by establishing household rules like knocking before entering a sibling’s room. She also suggests a timer system for turns on video games, as well as a chore calender: “It’s more, ‘The calendar says you have to do the dishes tonight,’ so the parent doesn’t have to get in the middle. It’s the calendar’s fault.”

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