Less sibling rivalry in youth could lead to better health in future
Siblings of elementary-school age can learn to get along and in doing so, they can improve their future health and well-being, a new prevention program designed and carried out by Pennsylvania researchers has showed.
"Negative sibling relationships are strongly linked to aggressive, anti-social and delinquent behaviors, including substance use," Mark Feinberg, research professor in the Prevention Research Center for the Promotion of Human Development, said.
"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," he said.
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 get 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.
"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," Feinberg said.
The results have been printed in the Journal of Adolescent Health.