Learning how to fight: Connections between conflict resolution patterns in marital and sibling relationships
Understanding the development and expression of conflict management styles within sibling relationships has important implications for identifying interventions for fostering children's social competence. The present study investigated the relationship between parents' early and concurrent marital conflict resolution styles and their first-grade child's use of constructive and destructive conflict management strategies with their siblings. Using both Social Learning Theory (Bandura, 1969) and Family Systems Theory (Minuchin, 1985), the current study explored parents' styles of marital conflict resolution as predictors of children's observed sibling conflict strategies. Participants included 50 mothers and fathers, their first-grade child and next younger sibling, within a 3.5 year range. Families from the project were drawn from a larger longitudinal study investigating the transition to parenthood in 153 working-class, dual-earner couples. Self-report scales measuring marital conflict resolution (e.g., Positive Problem Solving, Engagement, Withdrawal, and Compliance) were completed by each parent across the transition to parenthood and five years later when their oldest child entered the first grade. At a 5-year follow-up home visit, parents rated their oldest child's behavior toward their sibling across three dimensions (e.g., Positive Involvement, Conflict and Rivalry, Avoidance). In addition, videotaped free-play sibling observations were conducted to assess sibling positive and negative connectedness as well as sibling conflict resolution styles. Observational data revealed that fathers' use of compliance strategies was associated with siblings' greater likelihood of being classified as using only destructive strategies and engaging in fewer conflicts. Mothers' conflict styles were more strongly implicated in parent reports of sibling behavior. Parents' conflict resolution styles were most linked to negative sibling interactions, rather than positive involvement. The findings highlight the balance of destructive marital conflict styles relative to constructive styles in understanding parent reports of the sibling relationship. Future research should consider particular couple patterns of conflict styles as potential influences on sibling conflict behaviors.