Sibling conflict represents parents' number one concern and complaint about family life, but a new prevention program -- designed and carried out by researchers at Penn State -- demonstrates that siblings of elementary-school age can learn to get along. In doing so, they can improve their future health and well-being.
"Negative sibling relationships are strongly linked to aggressive, anti-social and delinquent behaviors, including substance use," said Mark Feinberg, research professor in the Prevention Research Center for the Promotion of Human Development. "On the other hand, positive sibling relationships are linked to all kinds of positive adjustment, including improved peer and romantic relationship quality, academic adjustment and success, and positive well being and mental health. With this program, we wanted to help siblings learn how to manage their conflicts and feel more like a team as a way to improve their well-being and avoid engaging in troublesome behaviors over time."
The researchers recruited 174 families living in both rural and urban areas to participate in the study. Each of the families had one child in the fifth grade and a second child in the second, third or fourth grade. To obtain background information about the families, the researchers collected questionnaire data from the parents, interviewed each of the siblings privately and videotaped family interactions. The team also videotaped the siblings as they planned a party together.
The team also gave a popular book on how to parent siblings to each of the families -- including those in the control and the intervention groups -- to see if the intervention would yield benefits above and beyond having access to such a parenting book.
The program -- called SIBlings Are Special (SIBS) -- was designed by Feinberg; Susan McHale, director of the Social Science Research Institute at Penn State and professor of human development; and colleagues to improve sibling and family relationships just prior to older siblings' transition to middle school, which often is marked by increased exposure to and involvement in risky behaviors. The 174 families who participated in the study were randomly assigned to take part in SIBS or to be in a control condition.
The program included a series of 12 afterschool sessions in which the researchers used games, role-playing activities, art activities and discussions to teach small groups of sibling pairs how to communicate in positive ways, how to solve problems, how to come up with win-win solutions and how to see themselves as part of a team rather than as competitors. The program also included three "family fun nights" in which the children had the opportunity to show their parents what they had been doing in the afterschool sessions.
"We found that the siblings who were exposed to the program showed more self-control and social confidence; performed better in school, according to their teachers; and showed fewer internalizing problems, such as depressive symptoms, than the siblings in the control group," said Feinberg.
Not only did the program help the siblings, it helped their parents too.
"The program helped parents use more appropriate strategies for parenting their kids," said Feinberg. "In addition, intervention mothers reported significantly fewer depressive symptoms after the program than control mothers, perhaps because their kids were doing better and they were less worried about them. No effects of the program were seen for fathers regarding depression."
The results appeared this month in the Journal of Adolescent Health.
How can the team's results be used by parents who are not involved in the study?
"We think that by encouraging siblings to feel like they're part of a team, and by giving them tools to discuss and resolve issues, parents can help their kids develop more positive relationships with each other, which can benefit everyone in the family," said Feinberg. "So, for example, if the kids are fighting over what television channel to watch or whose turn it is, we might suggest that a parent not resolve the issue for them, but instead give them just enough help so that they can calmly discuss and resolve the problem on their own. When siblings come up with their own solutions, they may be more likely to use those solutions again in the future."
Investing in more effort on the front end as a parent by helping siblings learn how to stay calm and discuss and resolve issues will pay off over time, according to Feinberg. "It's an investment in reducing your own stress and enhancing your children's well-being for the future."
Penn State: http://live.psu.edu
This press release was posted to serve as a topic for discussion. Please comment below. We try our best to only post press releases that are associated with peer reviewed scientific literature. Critical discussions of the research are appreciated. If you need help finding a link to the original article, please contact us on twitter or via e-mail.
Understanding aggressive tumors in pets may lead to better treatments for the nastiest forms of the disease in people
Anti-GM activists will never accept anything ‘unnatural’, but the genetically modified potato being developed in Norwich could be of tremendous benefit
A new study is the first rigorous test of a controversial idea: that the everyday interactions between caregiver and child can change the way autism develops
Emergency crews who spent months clearing up after the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York have higher rates of rheumatoid arthritis and lupus
Six years ago, husband-and-wife scientists used gene therapy to cure colorblindness in monkeys. Now they're trying to make it work for the millions of people with faulty color vision.
Faced with unreliable screening, many women with a high lifetime risk of cancer opt for preventative surgery, just as Jolie did.
CAIRO (Reuters) - A team from a Spanish university has discovered what Egyptian authorities are calling the world's oldest evidence of breast cancer in the 4,200-year-old skeleton of an adult woman.
Early efforts to test legal marijuana are finding that it's got lots of buzzworthy THC. But it can also have fungus, chemical residue and bacteria. What that means for health and safety isn't clear.
Should the government recommend lean meat as part of a healthy diet? That's emerged as a political flashpoint. The panel working on federal guidelines says the evidence on lean meat is muddled.
A new coating makes ketchup slide out of the bottle and toothpaste slip out of a tube, right down to the last drop. So why not put the slick surface on an Ebola suit so the virus doesn't stick?