Children Don’t Learn Violent or Disruptive Behavior From Siblings Interview with:
Ella Daniel, PhD

Department of School Counseling and Special Education
Constantiner School of Education
Tel Aviv University What is the background for this study?

Response: The development of disruptive behavior in early childhood is extremely important, as disruptive behavior starts early in life and behavioral patterns may become stable and resistant to influence later on. Siblings have a high potential to influence each other’s behavior, as they spend a considerable amount of time together, are close in age and likely to become role models. However, the role of siblings in disruptive behavior development was mostly studied among adolescents, and hardly among young children.

In the current study, conducted in collaboration with Dr. Jennifer Jenkins and colleagues at the University of Toronto and funded by the Canadian Institute for Health Research, we asked parents in some 400 families in and around Toronto, about the behavior of their young children. Both mothers and fathers reported the frequency of disruptive behaviors among their children, including violence, disobedience, destruction of property etc.. At the time of the study, the youngest children in the family were only 18 months of age. They all had an older sibling who was less that 5.5 years of age, and some had additional older siblings, up to four children in a  amily. Using advanced statistical models, we aimed to identify the role of siblings in the development of each child’s disruptive behavior over time, taking into account heredity, parenting, social environment and shared history. What are the main findings?

Response: The study finds that older siblings of young disruptive children tend to exhibit less disorderly behavior over time. It concluded that disruptive behavior of a young sibling produces greater disparity – rather than resemblance – among siblings. What should readers take away from your report?

Response: The study found that in early childhood, children do not learn from each other how to be disruptive, violent or disobedient. In fact, they are more likely to learn what not to do, or how not to behave. The older siblings of young children who are disruptive tend to become less disruptive themselves over time, creating a polarizing effect on their behaviors.

The study teaches us that we have little to worry about one sibling being ‘a bad influence’ on their brothers or sisters. Instead, we should be more worried of pigeon holing: that one child will be labeled as a ‘black sheep,’ and that all children in the family will develop based on pre-assigned roles. We should let each child develop his or her individuality, which naturally changes over time. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: This study highlights the role of siblings in the development of children. Studies tend to focus on socialization effects by parents or educators, sometimes even peers. However, siblings are often an important aspect of a child’s social life. Their role should not be neglected, if we want to understand the full scope of environmental influences on children’s behavior and health.

Moreover, the study highlights that the effects of family members on behavior are not trivial to estimate, and may not be intuitive. Research should be careful to take account of the multiple sources of clustering and similarity within a family, such as heredity and shared environment, before making any conclusions regarding direct influence.

There are no disclosures to add. Thank you for your contribution to the community.


Ella Daniel, André Plamondon, Jennifer M. Jenkins. An Examination of the Sibling Training Hypothesis for Disruptive Behavior in Early Childhood. Child Development, 2017; DOI: 10.1111/cdev.12754

Note: Content is Not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider regarding your specific medical condition and questions.

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Last Updated on March 9, 2017 by Marie Benz MD FAAD