Good relationships with siblings may buffer the effects of family conflict

Children who are exposed to hostile, escalating conflicts between parents are at increased risk for developing mental health problems. However, many children from homes marked by conflict don’t experience significant psychological problems. A new longitudinal study sought to determine why some children are protected from the negative consequences of witnessing repeated hostility between their parents. It found that having a good relationship with a sibling may help buffer the distress of ongoing family conflict.

The study was done by researchers at the University of Rochester, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and the University of Notre Dame. It appears inĀ Child Development, a journal of the Society for Research in Child Development.

“Most children not only grow up with a sibling but spend more time interacting with siblings than with any other family member,” according to Patrick T. Davies, professor of psychology at the University of Rochester, who led the study. “We showed that having a good relationship with a brother or sister reduced heightened vulnerability for youth exposed to conflicts between their parents by decreasing their tendencies to experience distress in response to later disagreements between their parents.” The study defined a good relationship as one in which there were high levels of warmth and problem-solving and low levels of conflict and detachment.

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