Although siblings can be a source of bullying and trauma, a new study published in Springer Plus suggests that brothers and sisters are reliable sources of emotional support. Giovanna Perricone from the Department of Psychological, Educational, and Training Sciences at the University of Palermo analyzed sibling relationships in correlation with traumatizing events. Perricone hypothesized that siblings “might be a source of social and emotional support useful for managing, understanding and sharing emotions." The results from this study suggest that siblings offer social and emotional support as well as serve as role models to traumatized children.

The Collapse of a Sicilian Primary School

An unfortunate accident at a small Sicilian primary school resulted in the collapse of a building, forcing 100 students, ages nine to eleven, to relocate. The students were interviewed and asked to discuss the event. Children reported the time the building fell, actions taken, those involved, and personal emotions about the incident. Perricone used the following tools to further assess the children:

  • Trauma System Checklist for Children (TSCC-A): A 44-item self-report looking for PTSD symptoms.
  • The Brother as A Resource Questionnaire (BRQ): A 21-item questionnaire investigating one's perception of the sibling relationship as a resource.

The BRQ observed three behaviors: scaffolding, emotional sharing, and decision making during recreational activities. Scaffolding refers to how a sibling develops competency, then teaches younger siblings the lessons they've learned. Troubled children take this advice to heart and use it in future dilemmas to assess decision-making skills. Instances of emotional sharing include times when siblings showed support during difficult experiences.

Big Brothers Need to Be Good Role Models

Children who showed the weakest symptoms for PTSD experienced more scaffolding and showed educated decision-making. “The first interesting outcome, even though only descriptive, is the evident valence of the sibling relationship—mostly with elder brother—as an effective resource, especially in terms of scaffolding," notes Perricone.

Perricone found that 61 percent of the children reported an elder sibling as a useful resource and role model during the school tragedy. The study also revealed that increased scaffolding and emotional sharing result in lower anxiety, anger, and depression.

Date of original publication:
Updated on: October 23, 2015