What does it take to raise kids whose squabbling is benign? Or at
least not lethal? One major ingredient is a marriage without open
conflict. When discord surfaces between parents, finds a team of Los
Angeles researchers, there's negative fallout on sibling
The effect is indirect, reports educational psychologist Osnat
Erel, Ph.D., with the hostility between adults typically spilling over
into the mother-child relationship. Erel and colleagues videotaped 73
pairs of same-sex siblings, ages three to nine, while they played.
Meanwhile, their mothers filled out extensive questionnaires about their
children, parenting practices, and marriages.
The team found that the more marital problems the mothers reported,
the more likely they were to resort to punitive discipline techniques
with both children. When mothers apply so-called power-assertive means of
parenting notes Erel, now at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, the senior
sibling engages in a show of force, applying aggressive and dominating
tactics against the younger child.
In kick-the-cat fashion, the youngsters are only handing down what
is done to them. Senior siblings treat their junior sibs worse than the
younger ones treat them.
"Negative sibling interaction is linked with negative family
interaction," the team says in Developmental Psychology. The family
responds as a whole system, with trouble cascading from the marital to
the parental and sibling relationships.
Sibling fighting, researchers now know, is not necessarily harmful.
It is an arena for children to learn to solve conflicts, especially
emotionally heated ones. But that only happens when home is a generally
happy place to be.