Academic journal article Child Study Journal

The Impact of Sibling Warmth and Conflict on Children's Social Competence with Peers

Academic journal article Child Study Journal

The Impact of Sibling Warmth and Conflict on Children's Social Competence with Peers

Article excerpt

In this study we examined links between children's sibling and peer relationships in a sample of 53 third- through sixth-grade children. Warmth and conflict in children's sibling relationships were assessed through self-reports and children's social competence with peers was assessed at the level of the group (peer sociometric ratings, sociometric nominations, and behavior nominations), dyad (friendship quality), and individual (child reports of social competence and loneliness). Consistent with hypotheses, sibling warmth was associated with more positive peer relations. Sibling conflict was associated with both positive and negative peer outcomes, independent of sibling warmth. Interestingly, children's reports of their sibling relationship were not more strongly associated with measures of friendship quality than with other measures of social competence. The results are discussed in terms of the importance of assessing multiple dimensions of sibling and peer relationships.

Children's social worlds are composed, primarily, of three different spheres -- that is, relationships with family, peers, and outside adults (Hartup, 1979). Of these various realms of children's social worlds, connections between family life and peer relationships have received the most research attention, especially with regard to the impact of parent-child relationships, parental mental health, and parents' discipline practices on children's peer relations (Dishion, 1990; Dunn & McGuire, 1992; MacKinnon-Lewis et al., 1994; MacKinnon-Lewis, Starnes, Volling, & Johnson, 1997; Putallaz, 1987). Links between the family and peer domains are also of special interest because these are the two domains in which children interact with other children (i.e., siblings and peers). This connection between children's sibling and peer relationships is the focus of the present research. In particular, we examined sibling warmth and conflict as predictors of children's social competence with peers.

Sibling relationships are believed to have multiple influences on children's social and emotional development. Children appear to use sibling relationships as a kind of learning ground in which they develop, practice, and improve strategies for social interaction, including interactions with peers (MacDonald & Parke, 1984). In a narrative review, Brody (1998) found that children acquire social-cognitive skills like affective perspective-taking and consideration of other people's feelings and beliefs, at least partially, from interactions with their siblings (Brown & Dunn, 1992; Dunn, Brown, & Beardsall, 1991; Dunn, Brown, Slomkowski, Tesla, & Youngblade, 1991; Howe, 1991; Howe & Ross, 1990; Youngblade & Dunn, 1995). Sibling interactions also have been shown to be a way for children to develop an understanding of both themselves and others (Barnes & Austin, 1995).

Peer relationships are also critical to understanding children's social and emotional adjustment. Research has established connections between problematic peer relationships and a range of later adjustment problems, including dropping out of school, engaging in criminal behavior, and psychiatric disturbances (Dunn & McGuire, 1992; Parker & Asher, 1987; Stocker & Dunn, 1990). Partly in an effort to prevent the development of these problems, researchers have begun to address the question of what family factors promote or hinder healthy peer relationships. Sibling relationships constitute an important family influence on peer relationships, both prospectively (with early experiences with a brother or a sister setting the stage for later peer relationships) and concurrently (with sibling and peer relationships being mutually influential).

Although sibling and peer relationships are assumed to have reciprocal influences, the nature of the influence is still not clear. Two explanatory models are prevalent in the current research literature. …

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