Household rules can help parents resolve conflicts and guard children's mental health

Published on December 20, 2012 at 2:00 AM · No Comments

Holiday presents will soon be under the tree for millions of adolescents. With those gifts may come sibling squabbles over violations of personal space, such as unwanted borrowing of a fashionable clothing item, or arguments over fairness, such as whose turn it is to play a new video game. Those squabbles represent two specific types of sibling conflict that can have different effects on a youth's emotional health, according to a multi-year study by a University of Missouri psychologist. With these findings, parents can learn how to bring peace to the home and encourage their children's healthy psychological development.

"Our results show that conflicts about violations of personal space and property are associated with greater anxiety and lower self-esteem one year later in life," said Nicole Campione-Barr, MU assistant professor of psychological science in the College of Arts and Science. "Conflicts over issues of equality and fairness are correlated to greater depression one year later."

Campione-Barr and her colleagues studied 145 pairs of mostly European-American, middle-class siblings for one year. The average ages for the pairs were 15 and 12 years. The teens rated different topics of possible conflict, noting the frequency and intensity of the arguments. The arguments were organized into two categories: violations of personal domain or conflicts over fairness and equality. The study then examined correlations among the arguments and teens' reports of depressed mood, anxiety and self-esteem after one year.

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