Beyond Warmth and Conflict: The Developmental Utility of a Boundary Conceptualization of Sibling Relationship Processes


  • This research was supported by the National Institute of Mental Health awarded to Patrick T. Davies and E. Mark Cummings (2R01 MH57318), and by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development awarded to Sonnette M. Bascoe (F31 HD061348). We are grateful to the children, parents, teachers, and school administrators who participated in this project. Our gratitude is expressed to the staff on the project and the graduate and undergraduate students at the Universities of Rochester and Notre Dame.

concerning this article should be addressed to Sonnette M. Bascoe, Department of Clinical and Social Sciences in Psychology, University of Rochester, Rochester, NY 14627. Electronic mail may be sent to


Translating relationship boundaries conceptualizations to the study of sibling relationships, this study examined the utility of sibling enmeshment and disengagement in predicting child adjustment difficulties in a sample of 282 mothers and adolescents (mean age = 12.7 years). Mothers completed a semistructured interview at the first measurement occasion to assess sibling interaction patterns. Adolescents, mothers, and teachers reported on children’s adjustment problems across 2 annual waves of assessment. Supporting the incremental utility of a boundary conceptualization of sibling relationships, results of latent difference score analyses indicated that coder ratings of sibling enmeshment and disengagement uniquely predicted greater adolescent adjustment difficulties even after taking into account standard indices of sibling relationship quality (i.e., warmth and conflict) and sibling structural characteristics (e.g., sex).