Study tracks sibling fighting

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DURHAM, N.H. (AP) – Children in a tug-of-war over who gets to play with this year’s prized Christmas gift? Don’t dismiss the squabbling as “kids being kids,” say University of New Hampshire researchers.

Children who are hit by their siblings show increased signs of anxiety and depression, according to a study that disputes the notion that such conflicts are a harmless part of growing up with brothers or sisters.

The university’s Crimes Against Children Research Center surveyed 2,000 children nationwide from ages 2 to 17. The study, published in the academic journal Child Abuse and Neglect, found sibling fighting to be less severe than adult violence in terms of injuries and weapons used, but more severe in terms of chronic victimization.

If an adult assaults a colleague, the consequences are swift and harsh, said Sociology Professor David Finkelhor, the study’s lead author. The same is not true for children.

“It feels like when it happens to an adult it’s a much more serious matter,” he said. “But if you ask a somewhat different question – how traumatizing is it for the victim? – there are actually reasons to think the children are more traumatized by it.”

Children have much less choice in who they associate with, whether a school mate or sibling, and have almost no guarantee that such a fight will not occur again, he said.

“For the most part, the pain and suffering has to do with the kind of fear that this could recur, the sense of vulnerability that they feel,” he said.

The study found that 20 percent of the children were hit or attacked by a peer in the last year and 35 percent by a sibling.

Children ages 2 to 5 were the most likely to be injured, with or without a weapon. Sibling assaults were most common in children between the ages of 6 and 9.

Finkelhor said he is not in favor of bringing in police and judges to deal with young bullies, but wants to create more empathy and better support for victimized youngsters. His team plans to track those surveyed to study the lasting effects of such violence.

“My sense is that the effects of these experiences are not long term, but to some of these kids, they do lead to a cascade of ongoing victimization which does have a considerable long-term impact,” he said.

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