ISSN 1671-3710
CN 11-4766/R

Advances in Psychological Science ›› 2021, Vol. 29 ›› Issue (2): 286-295.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1042.2021.00286

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Sibling conflict and its resolution: The effects of family subsystem

QU Guoliang, CAO Xiaojun()   

  1. School of Education, China West Normal University, Nanchong 637002, China
  • Received:2020-03-17 Online:2021-02-15 Published:2020-12-29
  • Contact: CAO Xiaojun


In recent years, with the change of national family planning policy, from “a couple should only have one child” to “a couple can have two children”, the two-child family will replace the one-child family as the main family form in China. Under such circumstance, sibling conflict, which is regarded as a serious topic, has come into focus gradually, and at the same time, how parents deal with sibling conflict becomes an important problem to be solved urgently. In view of the current situation that the definition of sibling conflict is ambiguous, this paper preliminarily defines sibling conflict as the incompatibility expressed by two or more people with the same biological parents in their behaviors, goals or activities in an intact family, which is usually characterized by quarrels and hostility, as well as aggression against each other. The styles of parents’ intervention in sibling conflict usually can be divided into child-centered strategies, control strategies, and nonintervention strategies. To be more specific, child-centered strategies, especially mediation, has a good intervention effect on sibling conflict; control strategies are correlated with more severe sibling conflict; and there are positive and negative effects of nonintervention strategies on sibling conflict. Therefore, when parents cope with sibling conflict, they should try their best to use child-centered strategies, rather than control strategies, and carefully use nonintervention strategies. Furthermore, parents should flexibly use these three strategies to intervene in sibling conflict according to different situations, rather than apply these strategies rigidly. Based on family system theory, this paper explores the effect of three kinds of family subsystems on sibling conflict. Specifically, there are bidirectional influence mechanisms between parental marital relationship, parent-child relationship, sibling relationship and sibling conflict. Family system theory emphasizes that the family is viewed as a hierarchically organized system, comprised of reciprocally influential subsystems. Thus, it is not appropriate to solely consider the impact of each subsystem on sibling conflict, but should recognize these impacts from a unified and holistic perspective. Recognizing this, an integrated theoretical hypothesis model is established among sibling conflict, parental intervention styles on sibling conflict and family subsystems in order to further explore the relationships among them in this paper. This hypothesis model points out that parental marital relationship, parent-child relationship, sibling relationship and sibling conflict interact with each other, thus there exist multiple influence paths of family subsystems on sibling conflict. Moreover, parental marital relationship, parent-child relationship and sibling relationship can also affect sibling conflict by indirectly influencing parental intervention styles on sibling conflict. This hypothesis model emphasizes the complex relationship between sibling conflict and the whole family system, which can be summarized as three points: multi-factor, multi-path and multi-level. “Multi-factor” refers to the fact that sibling conflict is affected by multiple factors simultaneously, rather than only by a single factor. “Multi-path” means that the effect of a certain factor on sibling conflict is multi-path, and these paths also intersect with the influence paths of other factors on sibling conflict. “Multi-level” refers to that there are different levels of factors affecting sibling conflict. Although most of the influence paths in the model have been supported by empirical studies, these empirical studies are mainly from United States and other western countries, so the applicability of these influence paths needs to be further confirmed in China. In addition, there still exist some controversial or unconfirmed paths in the model, which need to be tested or verified by future studies. Finally, future studies need to distinguish or integrate between sibling conflict and its related concepts, focus on what factors will affect the styles parents intervene in sibling conflict, and treat sibling conflict from the perspective of development.

Key words: sibling conflict, sibling relationship, intervention style, family subsystem, influence pathway

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