Sibling rivalry and social conflict key to learning right and wrong


We may not remember our school yard arguments or the specifics about how we tormented our siblings, but a recent study suggests that these conflicts provide opportunities for learning about right and wrong. These teachable moments offer a clearer picture o the differences between disputes with friends and those with siblings.

Conflicts provide opportunities

This is the first study which goes directly to young people to ask them about their experiences. Professor Holly Recchia from Concordia University’s Department of Education and her collaborators asked children aged seven, 11 and 16 about times they had hurt their siblings and friends. When asked about the incident, the children described benign behaviors like dishonesty or insensitivity in order to show their good intentions or to describe extenuating circumstances. They appeared to be cautious about hurting their friends. The seven year olds especially seemed to indicate their friendships were fragile and needed extra consideration.

Friendships differ from sibling rivalry

When reflecting on unintentional harm done to friends, the children considered the needs and feelings of others. They think about misunderstanding, miscommunication and the consequences of their actions.

In contrast, when discussing sibling conflicts, the children were more likely to admit they took something that wasn’t theirs or to doing something offensive or ruthless, name calling or teasing. They said incidents were provoked. These conflict were different, but complementary, to the run-ins with friends.

Remorse and regret

When discussing sibling conflict, the children were more likely to talk about the senselessness of the conflict as well as feelings of remorse and regret. “That means that instances of harm toward a sibling offer opportunities for self-evaluation, and for a deeper understanding of the cyclical and escalating character of ongoing conflicts,” explained Recchia.

Reflections diminish with age

Perhaps not surprisingly, the 16 year olds weren’t quite so reflective. This might be due to the time tested nature of their friendships at that point. Friendships are more stable and less fragile. Or it could be that they are teenagers.

Source: MedicalNewsToday, Concordia University


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