Siblings play an integral role in shaping each other’s psychosocial development. Sibling relationships marked by positive, prosocial interactions provide an ideal platform for individuals to acquire essential life skills that will benefit them throughout life. On the other hand, early sibling relationships marked by elevated levels of hostility and conflict can have serious long-term, negative consequences. Of all the factors that influence the sibling relationship, few are as important as parents. Currently, there are no parenting programs that have been co-constructed with parents in the community to help them with improving their children’s sibling relationships.
This dissertation seeks to make an important contribution to literature by taking on the challenge of developing and evaluating a parenting program for improving sibling relationships. The feature of this body of work is the evaluation of a version of the Triple P-Positive Parenting Program, tailored to the issue of sibling relationships. However, the goal of this dissertation extends beyond an evaluation of program efficacy. This dissertation also examines the process of innovation and engagement throughout the research process. The thesis seeks to demonstrate that innovation and engagement in evidence-based parenting research enhance the capacity to design interventions that fit with community needs and increase the impact of research.
Chapter One provides a general introduction to the current body of work. The chapter makes the case for why sibling relationships are worth studying, why parenting programs are a useful tool to improve sibling relationships, and why engaging parents throughout the research process is important. The chapter also articulates an innovation engagement framework that describes the mechanisms associated with linking ideas to impact. Chapter Two provides a model of consumer-engaged program development. Using sibling conflict as a case study, the model articulates how evidence-based parenting interventions can be developed in consultation with different members of the community, resulting in benefits to children, families, and the community.
Chapter Three presents the outcome data from a national survey of parents on the topic of sibling relationships. The survey bridged an important gap in the literature by incorporating the parent voice as an initial step in designing an intervention for improving sibling relationships. A total of 409 Australian parents completed an online survey relating to their views on sibling behaviours and what, if any, help they desire in dealing with the issue. Parents predominantly required help with conflictual behaviours and attributed the causes of sibling conflict to their child’s internal traits, but expressed strong desire for assistance with managing behavioural and verbal problems and reported high levels of acceptability for positive, rather than punitive, parenting strategies. Parents showed a clear preference for parenting interventions delivered in brief, easy to access formats.
The findings from the survey were integrated with existing theory and empirical evidence to inform the decision to adapt a version of the Triple P-Positive Parenting Program for the purpose of improving sibling relationships. Chapter Four presents the rationale to adapt and tailor the Triple P brief discussion group ‘Managing Fighting and Aggression’, outlines the content of the intervention, and describes why innovation in the form of program adaptation, rather than creation, is a potentially valuable idea.
Chapter Five presents the outcome data from the foundational randomised controlled trial of the Triple P brief discussion group for improving sibling relationships. A total of 66 parents were randomised to receive either the intervention or waitlist control condition. The results revealed a significant improvement in sibling relationships for the intervention group at 6-week post-intervention compared to the waitlist group. Significant differences between groups were found also for the extent to which parents perceived sibling agonism and lack of warmth to be a problem. No other intervention effects were found. The results are interpreted to provide preliminary support for the utility of a brief version of Triple P in improving sibling relationships. Further research is needed to replicate and extend these findings to provide the basis for broader dissemination of the intervention.
Chapter Six explores how engaging the community through the media may serve to positively influence community understanding of, and attitudes towards, sibling conflict. Using a national television broadcast, the goal was to emphasise the importance of parents positively intervening in their children’s sibling relationships. Results from 338 participants who responded to an online questionnaire indicated that viewing the television program resulted in a shift of attitude towards sibling conflict. Of those who experienced a change of view, 85% reported that the issue is more important than previously thought. The most compelling finding was that people who viewed the program were more likely to think that parents should positively intervene with their children’s sibling conflict compared to those who did not view the program.
The dissertation concludes in Chapter Seven whereby a summary of the overarching findings and implications of the body of work are discussed. Possible future research priorities and opportunities facing the field also are presented. This includes the need for expanding the competencies of graduate students, the role of commercial partners in developing evidence-based interventions, and novel applications of behavioural science to major problems facing communities around the world.
In sum, the goal of this dissertation is to demonstrate how the development of a parenting program for improving sibling relationships can improve the health and wellbeing of families and communities. This dissertation also illustrates the advantages of innovation and engagement throughout the research process when research impact is a valued outcome.