Although psychologists first began to study siblings and their relationships during the nineteenth century, it was not until the late twentieth century when they began to focus on the family related features of sibling relationships. Early research was devoted to examining the effects of siblings' age spacing and birth order. Scientists found, however, that these had little to do with children's emotional and social development. During the 1980s and 1990s, psychologists became more interested in the family as a unit. This encouraged them to study the ways in which brothers and sisters influence each other's development and their families' well-being, as well as the family's influence on sibling relationships.
Parents, as well as scientists, know that sibling relationships can either enhance or disrupt family harmony and child development. For a long time, parents have named conflict between siblings as one of the most common and persistent problems that they encounter in rearing their children. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, this issue is particularly important for several reasons. First, more parents are working full-time. Because of this, many siblings care for their younger brothers and sisters before and after school. If siblings in this situation fight frequently, the younger children are not likely to receive the kind of care that they need. Second, sibling relationships tend to remain the same throughout life. Brothers and sisters who get along well as children are likely to continue to have a positive relationship when they are adolescents and adults. On the other hand, sibling rivalry that started in childhood can continue well into adulthood and result in a distant relationship between the siblings. Given the extent to which siblings can support each other emotionally, it is important to understand the foundations of sibling relationship quality.
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