Tired of listening to seemingly endless bickering between your kids? Take heart-a good old-fashioned case of sibling rivalry can actually have a positive effect on kids' development, according to a study conducted at the Centre for Family Research at the University of Cambridge. The researchers looked at roughly 100 second-born children at age 2, 3 and 6, along with their older siblings (who were about two years older), says lead author Claire Hughes.
"By 6, they were arguing with older siblings on very equal footing, negotiating compromises and finding imaginative solutions to conflict," Hughes says.
The mechanism behind this phenomenon? Likely the day-to-day sibling conflicts parents of young children know all too well.
"So getting into sustained conversations with siblings seemed helpful, even if those conversations included a few disagreements," Hughes says.
These findings can be a comfort to parents in the thick of refereeing.
"Overall, the take-home message for parents is not to worry too much about verbal spats between siblings, as these can be good opportunities for learning," Hughes says.
Fighting does, of course, become problematic if those conflicts develop into an ongoing pattern of physical fighting, which could actually make it more difficult for the younger child to make friends down the road.
So instead of fretting over every little disagreement, Hughes suggests taking on fights by playing the mediator instead of making a firm ruling-especially without knowing all of the details. Set ground rules, she says, of "listening to and respecting other's viewpoints, but letting the children work out a solution for themselves."