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This Is When Science Thinks Sibling Rivalry Crosses The Line

Listening to your kids bicker can be downright migraine-inducing for any parent. The whining, the yelling, the arguing, the complaining that nothing is fair -- it's not cool. Not cool at all. But when do arguments and competition among sibs officially reach the "this is out of hand" level? Science, of course, has some thoughts on that.

A newly published study found in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry suggests parents should look at how often preschool-aged kids target their brothers and/or sisters in an aggressive manner. The frequency of this could indicate when parents should look for professional assistance in how to both handle the situation and help the kids change their behaviors towards one another.

So how often is too often?

Brace yourselves, study authors say if one kid is targeting a sibling "aggressively" as much as once a day this could mean there's a real behavioral problem at hand, not just a simple case of sibling rivalry.

The McGill University team collected data from more than 1,500 parents about how regularly their preschool-aged kids act aggressively.

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Melanie Dirks, a lead author on the study, disclosed that they only cited this behavior as atypical when it was reported that a child hit, name-called, or purposefully left a brother or sister out of play on most days of the week. While these behaviors are typically up for modification at a young age, the researchers felt that when they become daily actions the behavior becomes more entrenched in the child's psyche, meaning it's much harder to grow out of.

Credit: iStock / Markus Wegmann

If it feels as though you're hearing squabbles between your kids all day, every day, this news is probably not welcome. After all, aren't siblings supposed to argue and get competitive?

Perhaps to a certain extent, but not when it translates into behavioral issues that will then only grow outside of the home later in life.

Dirks suggests concerned parents should meet with someone like an early childhood development psychologist who can better assess the situation. These professionals are armed with all kinds of techniques to help children cope and learn social emotional tools that are extremely valuable in other aspects of life. She also suggests caregivers don't give in to the temptation to separate fighting siblings. It's more important to teach ways to work together to solve problems and co-exist than it is to keep kids apart, except in the instance of cooling off between rounds of arguments.

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