Younger Children Should Thank Older Children for Picking on Them, Concludes Five-Year-Long Research


If you and a sibling continually annoyed the hell out of each other growing up, traumatic memories aren’t the only things you’ll be getting out of that experience. According to a new study, you two actually might have been teaching other valuable skills in the process.

The University of Cambridge’s Center for Family Research has found that all that constant bickering may improve children’s mental and emotional development, increase maturity and make them better communicators, the Guardian reports.

Claire Hughes, Ph.D., the deputy director at the University’s Center for Family Research told the Guardian, “The more combative siblings are, and the more they argue and the older child puts the younger one down, the more they are learning complex lessons about communication and the subtleties of language.”

Specifically, more fighting increased children’s understanding about emotions—how to regulate their own, and how to influence others’ emotions—the Guardian reports.

And all the times siblings have tried to one-up each other? The more frequently this happens, the more the child is driven to succeed, researchers found.

To conduct the study, researchers examined siblings’ cognitive development over the course of five years, from the time the children were age 2 to the time they were age 6.

Dr. Hughes, who has written a book on sibling rivalry, called Social Understanding and Social Lives, clarifies, however, that not all forms of sibling rivalry are good. She told the Guardian, “Of course, if sibling rivalry gets out of hand, it can be very negative. Persistent violence is a strong predictor that the aggressive child will bully their peers.”(Back in 2013, we reported on a University of New Hampshire study that found a link between sibling aggression and poor mental health in children and adolescents—so there’s also evidence suggesting that sibling fighting can be really bad for your kids.)

Still, she acknowledges the findings might make some moms and dads feel relieved. “Parents might take some sort of comfort, when their children are fighting, in the discovery that they are learning valuable social skills and intelligence, which they will take outside the home, and apply to other children,” she said.


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