Academic journal article Family Relations

Improving Emotion Regulation and Sibling Relationship Quality: The More Fun with Sisters and Brothers Program*

Academic journal article Family Relations

Improving Emotion Regulation and Sibling Relationship Quality: The More Fun with Sisters and Brothers Program*

Article excerpt

Abstract:

We examined the role of emotion regulation (ER) in improving sibling relationship quality (SRQ) by evaluating the More Fun With Sisters and Brothers Program where 4- to 8-year-old siblings from 95 families were taught emotional and social competencies. Parents reported on SRQ and ER, and sibling interactions were observed in homes. SRQ and ER improved for program participants (n = 55) in comparison to those in a wait list condition (n = 40). Children participating in the program needed less parental direction to control negative emotions and refrain from directing negative actions toward others following the program. Higher levels of ER were linked with more positive SRQ at posttest. Results highlight the value of strengthening children's emotion regulation processes as a mechanism for promoting prosocial sibling relationships.

Key Words: emotion regulation, family relationships, intervention, parenting, sibling relationships.

Emotion regulation processes are increasingly being recognized as significant components of children's social development that prepare them to establish prosocial interactions with parents and peers (Blair, Denham, Kochanoff, & Whipple, 2004). Emotion regulation refers to the dynamic interaction of mul- tiple behavioral, psychophysiological, attentional, and affective systems that allow young children to participate effectively in their social world (Cole, Martin, & Dennis, 2004). Although it follows that emotion regulation abilities should also help chil- dren to form more harmonious relationships with siblings, this premise has not yet been systematically evaluated. The purpose of this research was to inves- tigate the contributions of emotion regulation in promoting sibling relationship quality through the evaluation of the More Fun With Sisters and Brothers (MFWSB) preventive intervention program, which was designed to promote such competencies.

The Need for Sibling Relationship Interventions

Research has consistently documented high levels of aggression in sibling relationships, making it the most prevalent form of family violence and abuse (Straus, Gelles, & Steinmetz, 2003). Conflict among siblings is generally more frequent and more volatile than other family relationships (Straus et al.). The fact that as many as 10% of family homicides are at the hands of siblings (Dawson & Langan, 1 994) illustrates the severity of this problem. Although research has been helpful in identifying many of the factors that set the stage for conflictual sibling relationships, evidence-based strategies for ameliorating sibling strife and promoting prosocial sibling relationships are lacking. Most interventions that are available to families to address these issues are designed to impact parents' rather than children's behaviors, and almost all lack formal evaluation (see Kramer, 2004, for a review). The current approach to improving sibling relationship quality is unique in that it (a) works to equip children with specific competencies that prior research indicates they need to relate positively to siblings, (b) trains parents to support and maintain children's new competencies, and (c) includes an evaluation component.

Emotion Regulation and Sibling Relationships

Sibling relationships can be highly emotionally charged and frustrating relationships for children. Kramer (2008) presented an "incomplete list" of the specific competencies that recent research has identified as important for the establishment of prosocial sibling relationships. Emotion regulation figures highly in this list, as it is considered to undergird relevant social competencies. The ability to engage in appropriate social behaviors rests strongly on one's ability to manage emotional experiences and behaviors. For example, productive conflict management is unlikely to occur with a sibling if a child is experiencing high levels of frustration, anger, or other negative emotions that are not effectively regulated. …

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