Sibling, parent-child, and peer relationships; family resiliency, family stress and coping difficulties in children's sibling relationships are quite common. Sibling conflicts are the most common types of family conflict and can be quite aggressive and even violent. In fact, some investigators refer to sibling relationships as potential "training grounds" for violence. Although programs are available for helping families with these difficulties, they are limited as they lack empirical and theoretical foundations. The objectives of my research program are: (1) to determine the factors that set the stage for prosocial versus conflictual sibling relationships; and (2) to develop effective prevention and intervention programs for enhancing positive sibling relationships.
In trying to understand why some siblings appear to get along well while others do not, I have been interested in what parents do to shape the quality of their children's relationships with one other. In particular, my research has focused on the methods parents use to respond to sibling conflicts and how sibling relationships are affected when parents treat their children very differently from one another.
Another research focus is the longitudinal study of how sibling relationships are initially established and how they change over time. Since 1984, I have been following 30 families from the time they prepared to have a second child (during the last trimester of the mother's pregnancy) to now- when the firstborn children in these families are in college or are living independently and the secondborn children are adolescents. I am currently using interviews, questionnaires, and home observations conducted with these families to better understand the factors that influence the quality of sibling relationships over the course of childhood and adolescence.
Most recently, I am currently offering and evaluating a preventive intervention program called More Fun with Sisters and Brothers that I developed with my students that teaches 4- to 8-year old siblings selected social skills for establishing positive interactions. This program has allowed me to test specific hypotheses about what social processes are most important in helping children to get along—while also helping families.
In general, I am most excited about applied action research that puts me in direct contact with families and community social service agencies. Through the Family Resiliency Center, the Illinois Rural Families Program, and other initiatives, my students and I have been able to partner with local organizations to address a number of issues affecting families, such as divorce, adoption, and trauma. I'd love to work with additional students who are committed to not only studying families, but helping them as well.