NPR : News

Filed Under:

When Sibling Fights Go Beyond Harmless Kid Stuff

I'll never forget the time my big brother sunk his fork in the back of my hand after I snitched food off his plate.

But all siblings fight, right? So I was more than a little skeptical of a study saying that sibling aggression can cause serious mental health problems like depression and anxiety.

I called up Corinna Jenkins Tucker, an associate professor of family studies at the University of New Hampshire and lead author of the study, to find out why the fork attack didn't cause lasting psychological damage, as far as I know.

"Siblings are going to fight," Tucker agreed. "What we looked at was more destructive forms of conflict."

Parents tend to write off aggression among siblings as just typical kid stuff, when they wouldn't accept that level of hostility from a child's schoolmate or friend.

Tucker and her colleagues wanted to measure the psychological impact of that sort of hazing among siblings. They analyzed interviews conducted with 3,599 children from infancy to age 17, with parents responding for the children under 10.

Children and teens who had been the victim of sibling aggression in the past year were much more likely to be anxious, depressed or angry. That was true whether the hostility was mild or severe. Meanness and other psychological conflict had as much negative impact as physical assault with a weapon or that caused injury. And the psychological harm was as profound as it was for children who were victimized by peers outside the family.

The researchers defined aggression as deliberately breaking toys or other possessions; making a child feel sad or scared by saying mean things or saying they didn't want him or her around; and physical aggression, with or without a weapon or injury. The results were published in the journal Pediatrics.

Parents should keep their antennae up and intervene if siblings aren't working things out, Tucker says. Fighting fair is teachable.

"The same ways you can learn soccer skills, you can learn conflict management skills," she says.

That means parents modeling good behavior, and teaching their offspring negotiating, reasoning, seeing another's point of view, and coming up with a mutually acceptable solution. (Here's one example of how parents can help children resolve conflicts.)

And the fork? That counts as aggression, right? Tucker laughed out loud when I asked her: "That's for you to answer."

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit


'Washington Post' Reporter Explores How Pop Culture Influences Views Of Police

NPR's Kelly McEvers talks to Washington Post reporter Alyssa Rosenberg, who has written a series for the paper about how Hollywood and pop culture has influenced the way the public perceives police.

In 'Appetites,' Bourdain Pleases The Toughest Food Critic (His 9-Year-Old)

Anthony Bourdain's new cookbook features comfort food he cooks for his young daughter. "She's who I need to please, and if she's not happy, I'm not happy," he says.
WAMU 88.5

The Politics Hour - October 28, 2016

Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton joins us as the new series "Good Girls Revolt" based on her early civil rights work debuts.


Qualcomm Spends Big Money To Get In The Car (Chip) Business

The smartphone chipmaker has agreed to buy NXP Semiconductors for $38 billion. The deal allows Qualcomm to rely less on the smartphone industry. NXP makes semiconductors for cars.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.