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Siblings impact child outcomes as much as parents

by Sarah Forrest|| 10 May 2017

Dr. Mark Feinberg, the lead investigator of Penn State University’s Siblings Are Special Project, runs a social research study into sibling rivalry and its affects on individual children and whole families. His outcomes so far prove that sibling relationships exert almost as strong a force on shaping a child as parental ones do. Siblings are in large part responsible for how a child develops “different varieties of friendships, romantic relationships, emotional and mental health problems, problematic behaviors, and achievements.”

And often that stems from the negative aspect of sibling relationships: rivalry and conflict. Anyone with more than one child – or who grew up with a sibling – know that one of the primary hallmarks of the sibling relationship is conflict. It is a powerful, constant force in the life of a child. And Feinberg has a few recommendations to help steer the relationship back into the positive zone when things get rough.

  1.  “Feinberg says that parents who spend one-on-one time with kids, in addition to communal family time, deflate rivalries.” Just more of being together as a family isn’t the key. When siblings feel they aren’t constantly competing for their parents’ attention, everything improves.
  2.  Parents should help siblings mediate – not leave them to figure it out or impose a solution for them. This can feel like a tricky balance in the moment, but it sets kids up for a lifetime of positive conflict resolution in all relationships.
  3.  Encourage cooperative activities, like building something together. This deflects competition in an obvious way, but also causes positive feelings of collaboration and unity.

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