06/17/2013 02:18 EDT | Updated 08/17/2013 05:12 EDT

Sibling fights compared to school bullying

Parents should take fights between siblings as seriously as they do schoolyard bullying because even fights over toys and name calling are associated with psychological damage, researchers say.

The study in Monday's issue of the journal Pediatrics was unique in its size and range, with a national sample of 3,599 children aged one month to 17 years in the U.S.

About 32 per cent of children and teens said they had experienced sibling victimization in the past year.

The researchers surveyed children and caregivers of kids under age 10 about three types of sibling aggression:

- Physical assault — hitting or kicking with or without a weapon or injury.

- Property victimization — stealing something or breaking a sibling’s belongings on purpose.

- Psychological aggression — saying things to make a brother or sister feel bad, scared or not wanted around.

"Taken together, our study shows that sibling aggression is not benign for children and adolescents, regardless of how severe or frequent. An implication of our work is that parents, pediatricians, and the public should treat sibling aggression as potentially harmful and something not to be dismissed as normal, minor, or even beneficial," Corinna Jenkins Tucker, a professor of family studies at the University of New Hampshire, and her co-authors concluded.

Tucker said parents and caregivers often dismiss aggression between siblings as normal or harmless, or even as good training for dealing with conflict in other relationships, but the mental health effects can be as serious as peer bullying.

The researchers suggested that efforts to prevent and stop peer victimization and bullying should expand to include sibling aggression.

Pediatricians could spread the word during office visits, and parent education programs could emphasize sibling aggression and how to mediate sibling conflicts, the study’s authors said.

They acknowledged that the data for younger children may have been incomplete because caregivers may not have a full picture of sibling aggression.