Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Family Dynamics

It's no surprise that having close familial relationships can afford a person higher well-being as well as lower rates of depression and disease throughout a lifetime. But in many families, getting along isn't a given. The interaction between various members is at the core of these complicated dynamics. We may joke about the stereotypical sources of disharmony—the obnoxious uncle and the ne'er-do-well son-in-law—but factors like environment and sibling rivalries do emerge when considering the viability and stability of family networks.

The Functional Family


Peace and harmony may be the goal, but family dysfunction is insidious and can come in many forms. When one family member contends with a problem such as alcoholism, drug abuse, domestic violence, neglect, or depression, the entire household is impacted. Slights and misbehaviors need to be readily addressed to avoid disharmony in the longer term.

What are healthy family dynamics?

In a functional family, parents strive to create an environment in which everyone feels safe, heard, loved, and respected. This requires parents to set and upholds rules, but not to resort to overly rigid regulation of any one person's behavior. While this sounds easy, it can be hard to achieve in practice. 

What causes family dysfunction?

Family quarrels and grudges can have lasting effects, sometimes following members into old age. Here are some reasons for such conflict: Parents do not enforce rules that guide healthy behavior; home is not a safe place for its members; there is no sense of unity; there is no healthy communication.

Navigating Sibling Relationships

Shutterstock 741354

Many theories have been proposed about the influence of birth order: The firstborn child is more conscientious and successful; the middle child feels excluded and embittered; the youngest is more social and persuasive; the only child is completely spoiled. However, these characteristics don’t seem to hold up in research. A study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, for example, found that birth order had no bearing on a person’s predisposition to take risks, a notion that had previously been widely held.

Do first borns have an advantage?

There's evidence that first borns have slightly higher IQs than their younger siblings. Some researchers attribute this to parental age at time of birth, while others contend that first borns received more resources and attention from parents for some developmental stretch. Other than this finding, there is no consistent evidence that firstborns, middle children, or last-borns reliably carry any particular traits whatsoever.  

Does having siblings affect child development?

The presence of siblings in the home does affect a child's development. Having a sibling, for example, affects a child’s social skills, and children with a sister or brother are often more agreeable and sympathetic. Also, having a sibling in adulthood helps alleviate depression and anxiety. People are just happier when they have positive sibling relationships.

Essential Reads

Recent Posts