But a new study from the University of Missourri on sibling pairs between the ages of 8 and 20 suggests that squabbles that involve intrusions on physical and emotional space--like borrowing something without asking, or hanging around when they're not wanted--do have a negative impact on the siblings relationship.
"When these issues were present, both younger and older siblings reported less trust and communication," says lead researcher Nicole Campione-Barr, assistant professor in the Missourri University Department of Pscychological Sciences. (Not surprisingly, older siblings reported these kinds of incursions more often than younger siblings.) Campione-Barr also noted that fights about equality and fairness, i.e. sharing responsibilities, had no impact on the quality of the siblings' relationships with one another.
It's interesting. I've been told that its best to stay out of sibling fights. (I've been told because I ask--I'm very curious about what parents should do--or not do--in hopes of promoting good relationships between siblings.)
Campione-Barr herself mentions the stay-out-of-it advice. "Previous research tells us that parents should step aside because they have a tendency to make matters worse," she says. But in this case, she says parents should step in. “Parents need to establish and enforce family rules about respecting privacy, personal space and property,” Campione-Barr said. “However, when sibling conflicts occur, there needs to be negotiations between siblings."
I often find the take away advice from studies silly, or questionable. But this one makes a lot of sense to me. I'm a hybrid--part sibling, part only child. I did have a brother growing up, but he lived in the hospital for most of my life, in a sterile room that prohibited physical fights and the sharing of toys etc. I like my personal space, and my stuff, and am pretty sensitive to having it trespassed upon--so I'm more than willing to step in to make sure my kids respect each other's space and belongings.
I'm betting, however, that it's one of those things that sounds a lot easier than it is. We shall see. I'm already anticipating (and not in a good way) the day that Luke decides he has as much fun dismantling Henry's trains as Henry has assembling them.