The Fix-Sibling-Rivalry School Club

After school program for family relationships produces positive outcomes

(RxWiki News) Did you and a brother or sister fight? A lot? Wouldn't it be nice to find a way to prevent your own kids from fighting each other? Sibling rivalry may be common, but it's also unhealthy.

Good sibling relationships are linked to better long-term mental health and development. A recent study found a special family program could help siblings and their parents develop stronger social skills.

The siblings in the program had healthier relationship, more self-control and better academic performance. The moms in the program had decreased depression.

"Seek family counseling to address conflict."

The study, led by Mark Feinberg, PhD, of the Prevention Research Center at the College of Health and Human Development at Penn State University, ran a trial to test an intervention designed to improve relationships between siblings. The program involved 174 diverse families which had a fifth grader and a younger sibling in second, third or fourth grade.

First, researchers visited the homes of all the families to gather information about the children's behavior and relationships. They used parent questionnaires, interviews with the children, videotaped interactions at the home and ratings from teachers about classroom behavior.

Then 86 families participated in a specially created program to enhance children's social relationships and family functioning. The other 88 families did not participate in the program. All the families in both groups received a popular book about parenting siblings.

For the program, children attended after-school sessions once a week for 12 weeks and the families in the program attended three Family Nights.

The after-school sessions discussed topics like understanding feelings, dealing with rejection, fair play, respect, goal setting, fairness and "Siblings are Special."

Overall, the children in the study attended an average of 10 sessions, and 81 percent of the families attended at least two Family Nights.

The researchers found the families who went through the program saw a host of different benefits compared to the control group who only received the book. The children enrolled in the program had more positive relationships with their siblings and improved social competence compared to the control group.

The children who participated in the program also showed more improvements in their self-control and academic performance than the children in the control group.

Meanwhile, parents' strategies for parenting siblings improved as well, and mothers in the program had lower rates of depression. Parents in the program group became less over-involved in their children's conflicts, allowing the siblings to work out conflicts on their own, compared to the control parents.

These improvements in the families and the children were seen regardless of the children's gender, age, family demographics or risk of behavior problems at the start of the study.

"Negative sibling relationships are strongly linked to aggressive, anti-social and delinquent behaviors, including substance use," said Dr. Feinberg in a release about the study. "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 program appeared successful, but it did not have an effect in all behavioral areas studied with the children. The researchers did not find that the children who went through the problems experienced any different level of conflict, cooperation in working against authority or aggression.

But this doesn't mean the program was a failure regarding sibling rivalry.

"That parents [in the program] allowed their children to solve their problems on their own to a greater extent may imply that the sibling conflicts that did occur [with the kids in the program] were less intense and more manageable," the researchers wrote.

Information was not available about whether this program would be offered in other schools or what the costs would be. However, working on social and communication skills as a family with a therapist could possibly lead to some similar effects.

The study was published November 27 in the Journal of Adolescent Health. The research was funded by the National Institute of Drug Abuse and Penn State University's Children, Youth and Family Consortium. Information was unavailable regarding author disclosures.

Review Date: 
November 29, 2012