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The Essential Ingredients of Successful Sibling Relationships: An Emerging Framework for Advancing Theory and Practice


  • This material is based on work supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture Hatch Project No. ILLU-793-357. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

concerning this article should be addressed to Laurie Kramer, Department of Human and Community Development, University of Illinois, 904 W. Nevada, Urbana, IL 61801; e-mail:


Abstract— Although conflict is a frequent and dynamic interpersonal process in children’s sibling relationships, ambivalence (i.e., combinations of, or shifts between, positive and negative behaviors and affects) may better characterize normative sibling interactions. Nonetheless, there is a general assumption that reducing conflict is the most effective mechanism for improving sibling relationships. This review argues that the focus on conflict as the predominant attribute of sibling relationships is misplaced and has served to overshadow research on other relationship processes; it has also handicapped the development of effective prevention and intervention tools. Strategies are presented for moving theory, research, and practice toward the identification and development of factors and social processes that promote prosocial forms of sibling engagement and manage conflict. Innovative strategies are needed on two fronts: to help young siblings set their relationship on a positive trajectory and to help them avoid or remediate conflictual interactions.