Archive for the ‘ Relationships ’ Category

The 4 Types Of Sibling Relationships

Wednesday, November 20th, 2013

Growing up with a sibling is complicated. Siblings get along – and don’t get along – in many different ways. But there’s a simple principle  – when expanded a bit – that guides a straightforward way of making sense of the type of relationship siblings have at a given point in time and development. (I’ve said it that way because the nature of the relationship can change over time … but more on that later).

First, the simple principle. You know that you can categorize a sibling relationship in terms of both positive and negative dimensions. Siblings express different degrees of positivity towards each other – we think about it in terms of how much warmth/affection they display, how much they like spending time with each other, how much they laugh when they are together, how they may express concern for each other. Siblings also (no surprise here) also can exhibit lots of negativity – fighting, arguing, hostility, and rivalry.

Okay, now the expansion. The degree of positivity in the sibling relationship is not highly associated with the degree of negativity. The formal way of saying this statistically is that they are “orthogonal” dimensions – they are not that highly correlated with each other. The better way of saying it is that knowing how much positivity siblings share does not necessarily tell us how much negativity exists in their relationship. You can have high levels of both, high levels of one or the other, or low levels of both.

So … the implication is that you can create, in a simple and descriptive way, 4 types of sibling relationships. The trick is to “rate” each dimension – positivity and negativity – as either high or low. Think of high as “more of rather than less of” and think of low as “less of rather than more of.” Yes, this is an arbitrary way of doing it – but one that actually works quite well empirically in research studies. Once you do that, then you get 4 types of sibling relationships:


Why are these typologies helpful? They tell us a lot about how a given pair of siblings influence each other:

  • Kids who are low on both positivity and negativity tend not to influence each other so much – they kind of quietly co-exist with not a lot of interaction.
  • The low positivity/high negativity sibs are the ones who constantly fight and argue and don’t like spending much time together. They can be problematic because they can reinforce hostile and coercive behaviors which spill out to other relationships outside the home.
  • Sibs who are high positivity/low negativity tend to complement (and compliment) each other – they function like buddies and as support systems.
  • The high positive/high negative sibs are an interesting lot – they spend lots of time together, have mutual friends, are very connected socially, and … are statistically more likely to break rules and get into trouble together, particularly in the teen years. They are the most complex developmentally and clinically and often have similar trajectories … which sometimes are not very good ones.

There are a few key points to keep in mind. Like any type of categorical system, this one makes probabilistic claims, not definitive ones. Age differences matter, as does gender composition. When there are more than 2 kids in a family, all kinds of dynamics exist, including a variety of potentially different sibling relationships. Importantly, sibling relationships can change over time – and as the sibling relationship extends through many developmental phases, it may morph more than once.

All that said, this typology offers a way to think about the different ways that siblings may, or may not, influence each other – and speaks to the range of experiences that siblings have throughout their life.

What You Need to Know About Birth Order
What You Need to Know About Birth Order
What You Need to Know About Birth Order

Baby Sister and Big Sister via

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Only Child Versus Sibling: Which Is Better?

Tuesday, November 19th, 2013

The debate circulates periodically in the parenting world – is it better to be an only child, or to grow up with siblings? Research findings will be cherry picked to support whatever position is endorsed. Personal experience will be cited. But as someone who has observed families – lots of families, all across the country – in many settings (research and clinical), I have a very simple answer to the question of which is better:


Now, of course there are plenty of unique features to being an only child, or being a sibling. But there is so much variation out there it seems absurd to me to claim that, structurally, being an only child versus having siblings is inherently preferable. And I’m not inclined to be swayed by trends in certain studies that point to small statistical effects. Only children are not “spoiled” unless a parent spoils them. There are plenty of “spoiled” children who have siblings. Growing up with a sibling can set a platform for the most intimate and long-lasting relationship a person may have. Then again, there are siblings who can’t stand each other. Some kids who don’t have siblings wish they did – and others grow up fine without one. Come up with any scenario and you can find someone who fits the profile – and someone who doesn’t.

Let’s face it, what really mattes is how a child is brought up – whether there is only one, or more than one, child in a household.

Raising an only child has unique demands. Raising more than one child does as well. But in either case, there’s either good parenting, or not so good parenting – or put another way, a healthy family climate or one that is problematic. That’s the big effect you will see in the data that will tell you plenty about a child – and what kind of person they become.

Plus: Are you ready for another child? Take our quiz and find out!

What You Need to Know About Your Only Child
What You Need to Know About Your Only Child
What You Need to Know About Your Only Child

Debate via


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Stick Your Tongue Out At Your Newborn

Monday, September 16th, 2013

The moment arrives. The baby’s here. Your life as mom or dad begins. And it’s not too early to marvel at how your newborn is wired to interact with you.

One of the classic ways to realize that your newborn is tuned into what you do is to stick your tongue out. In the first few days of life, many babies will stick their tongue out too.

WHAT’S GOING ON? Researchers have explored this phenomenon for decades, and some have continued to question if this is really social imitation (scientists are very good at coming up with – and ruling out – all kinds of alternative explanations for behaviors we observe). But a recent study of newborns has looked at this phenomenon of “imitation of tongue protrusion” and has concluded that it is what it is – even in the first few days of life babies are fascinated with your face, what it does, and in some cases have the neuromuscular control to copy you as a way of connecting with you.

WHAT DOES IT LOOK LIKE? Check out this 10-minute old newborn demonstrate “imitation of tongue protrusion.”

SHOULD I WORRY IF MY BABY DOESN’T DO IT? Keep in mind that “imitation of tongue protrusion” is not a diagnostic test. Some babies do it, some don’t. It’s not something to “work at” to make sure they do it. That’s not the point at all. The point is that your newborn is waiting to interact with you. There are many ways to nurture that fundamental urge, like gently stroking their cheek to promote them to turn their head, also known as the rooting reflex (which is a handy way to learn how to direct the head and mouth to a food source). Check out this list of 50 simple things you can do to “make your babies smarter” that are interactive, playful, and stimulating.

IS THIS JUST ABOUT LEARNING? All of these ways of interacting with babies promote brain development and provide the type of optimal stimulation they need. It’s good to know that babies are equipped with the ability to search out exactly what that is – something researchers call the “Goldilocks effect” – as they can, for example, scan for just the right amount of information they need in the human face at different ages. But beyond the purely cognitive elements here, remember that it’s really about the social bonding. Your baby is not only learning that the world is interesting and full of surprise and stimulation, he or she is discovering the joy of having you there to bond with, play with, and love.

Newborn Sticking Out Tongue via


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When Heroes Fall

Tuesday, July 30th, 2013

Kids have heroes. They always have, and they always will. Adults have them too.

But what do we tell our kids when our heroes fall? 

The world of sports offers lots of opportunities to see personal success and failure. When the success happens, it reinforces why athletes are heroes to our kids. When they fail though, it’s not clear what it means to them.

Baseball, for example, has been plagued for years now with issues related to Performance Enhancing Drugs. While the “steroid era” has seemingly passed us by (one in which a good number of players with Hall of Fame numbers will probably not get elected because of confirmed or assumed use), we still see suspensions and new scandals emerging. Sometimes the fall is even more severe – as in the case of former New England Patriot Aaron Hernandez, who is now in prison, charged with murder.

So my question is what do we say to our kids? Are there lessons here?

My bottom line is that we can use these falls as platforms for helping our kids understand that their heroes are people – real people. Perhaps we can encourage our kids to admire their professional successes without making the inference that they are “special” people because of their achievements. We can use these examples to let them know that there are pitfalls in anyone’s life, whether or not they are “heroes.” And of course we can remind them that there are lots of heroes in the world – police and fire personnel, teachers, moms and dads. Anyone can be a hero – and it’s great to remind them that sometimes our heroes are heroes because of their personal characteristics, and not just famous achievements.

Man Acting Like Super Hero via

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Shaming Kids In Public: A Good Or Bad Idea?

Thursday, June 13th, 2013

Shaming kids in public has become a parenting trend. You’ve seen the stories. Kids forced by their parents to stand in public holding some kind of sign indicating a wrongdoing. It could be that they stole. It could be that they were disrespectful. But the bottom line is that some parents believe that these kind of humiliating moments – or instances of tough love – may have enough impact to change their kid’s behavior for the better. 

So … is this a good or bad idea? While I contend that it’s a bad idea, let’s walk through some of the more subtle points.

We typically hear of stories in which parents are extremely frustrated with their kids. Some are afraid that their kids will get into deep trouble. They feel like they have run out of options and don’t know what else to do. So I understand that they are ready to do something. I’ve seen them in many of my own research studies and have also seen them in juvenile court and understand that they want a solution.

But I suggest that a public shaming is not the corrective measure they are looking for. Will it shock a kid in the short term? Maybe. Will it fundamentally change all of the factors that led to the persistent troubling behavior in the first place? Probably not. And that’s the point.

In practice, and in research, you will find kids with all kinds of problems. Acting out, stealing, lying, cheating. Using drugs and drinking. Being disrespectful. It really begins to hit when they hit the early teens. In order to take on these kinds of behaviors, it’s necessary to work with parents and their kids – using methods that have been proven to work across decades of research – to improve three core parenting skills:

Monitoring: Really knowing who your kid hangs out with and what they do – so you can prohibit or change their patterns of behavior when you see warning signs of trouble. This leads us to ….

Limit Setting: Making sure your kid understands the boundaries you set and learning effective methods for applying them with consistency. This only happens by improving  ….

Communication: How many arguments would you imagine a parent has had with a child before resorting to shaming kids in public? Would you anticipate that their dynamics revolve around yelling and screaming at each other? Many times it will. Parents and kids need to learn techniques for improving their level of communication with each other. And parents need to develop communication skills that help them shape their kid’s behavior by being authoritative and not authoritarian.

None of these skills come easily or quickly. They take dedicated effort on the part of parents, kids, and their practitioner. But putting in this kind of effort over time can change behavior – over the long term and not just temporarily.

Frustrated parents and kids who are acting out are realities. It’s agreed that parents in these situations need some type of recourse to right the ship. It can be suggested that public shaming teaches kids about power structures and coercive behavior and teaches much less about learning rules and morality and empathy. What’s really required is that parents and kids have an opportunity to work together to improve their relationship so that parents can be more effective on a daily basis and not feel the need to resort to drastic measures that may not have long-term benefits.

Naming and Shaming via


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