Sisters and Brothers are Special Project

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Sisters and brothers are an important part of children's daily lives. In the US, more than 80% of children grow up with at least one sibling (U.S. Census Bureau, 2010). In fact, children in the US today are more likely to grow up in a household with a sibling than with a father. Relationships between sisters and brothers are also the longest lasting relationships most individuals experience, beginning early in childhood (and at birth for those with older sisters and brothers) and extending into old age. Children spend more time with their sisters and brothers than with peers, parents, or other adults (McHale & Crouter, 1996). Sisters and brothers are particularly important in Mexican American families. Youth in these families spend more of their non-school time in shared activities with their siblings than they spend with parents or other extended family members or with peers, and they also spend more time together than do siblings in European American families. Further, in immigrant families, youth are more likely to share knowledge, experience, and language use patterns with their siblings than with their parents due to their common school, peer, and extracurricular activity contexts. In contrast, parents have less direct experience in such extrafamilial settings and typically face language barriers. The purpose of this project is to test the effectiveness of a universal prevention program designed to promote positive sibling and family relationships in Mexican American families with children in middle to late childhood (i.e., elementary school, grades 1 through 5). This program is designed to teach fundamental social skills (e.g., communication, perspective-taking, problem-solving) in the context of sibling relationships. The program involves 12 weekly afterschool sessions with siblings and three family fun nights (including the whole family).

Funding Source: T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics

Executive Director:


  • Adriana Umaña-Taylor
    ASU Foundation Professor, The Sanford School
  • Mark Feinberg
    Prevention Research Center, The Pennsylvania State University
  • Susan McHale
    Professor of Human Development, The Pennsylvania State University

Graduate Research Assistant:


Updegraff, K.A., Umaña-Taylor, A.J., Rodríguez De Jesús, S.A., McHale, S.M., Feinberg, M.F., Kuo, S.I. (in press). Family-focused Prevention with Latinos: What about Sisters and Brothers? Journal of Family Psychology. doi: 10.1037/fam0000200

Using a randomized, intent-to-treat design, this pilot study examined the feasibility and short-term effects of Siblings Are Special (SIBS) with a sample of 54 low-income Latino families (91% Mexican-origin). Participants were older (M = 10.8 years; SD = .46) and younger siblings (M = 8.4 years; SD = 1.13), and their parents (94% biological mothers), who were randomly assigned within school to the intervention (n = 28) or no-attention control (n = 26) condition. The intervention condition included 12 weekly afterschool sessions (90 minutes each) for sibling pairs and 3 family nights for parents and siblings (2 hours each). SIBS was designed to enhance sibling relationships via two primary intervention targets: (a) children's capacities that underlie positive sibling dynamics, including relationship skills, cognitions, and shared activities; and (b) parenting of siblings, specifically, enhancing positive guidance and involvement and discouraging authoritarian control. Pre- and post-test data were gathered from siblings and parents. Recruitment and implementation data revealed high rates of attendance and completion, and high ratings of parent satisfaction with the program. Further, analyses suggested the program had positive effects of small to modest magnitude on post-test measures of sibling and parent-child relationship quality, parenting of siblings, older siblings' emotional efficacy, and parents' depressive symptoms and parenting stress, controlling for pre-test levels of all outcomes and family background characteristics. Discussion addresses the feasibility of sibling-focused programs with low-income Latino families and makes recommendations for future research.