The Role of Marital, Coparenting, and Sibling Relationships on the Development of Children's Prosocial Behaviors in Early Childhood

Open Access
Scrimgeour, Meghan Brewer
Graduate Program:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
August 21, 2015
Committee Members:
  • Alysia Yvonne Blandon, Dissertation Advisor
  • Kristin Buss, Committee Member
  • Ginger A Moore, Committee Member
  • Susan Marie Mc Hale, Committee Member
  • prosocial behavior
  • marital relationship
  • coparenting relationship
  • sibling relationship
  • early childhood
Children’s ability to engage in prosocial behavior develops in the toddler and preschool years, and research has shown that children’s early growth in prosocial behavior is important in promoting social competence and positive social relationships later in life (Eisenberg, Fabes, & Spinrad, 2006; Ensor, Spencer, & Hughes, 2011; Hay, Hudson, & Liang, 2010). Occurring first within the family context, children’s early development of prosocial behavior is potentially influenced by multiple family dynamics including marital, coparenting, and sibling relationships (Dunn & Munn, 1986; Eisenberg et al., 2006; Hastings, Utendale, & Sullivan, 2007; McCoy, Cummings, & Davies, 2009; Scrimgeour, Blandon, Stifter, & Buss, 2013; Svetlova, Nichols, & Brownell, 2010). These three family subsystems have each been implicated in children’s prosocial behavior, but have not been examined together. In order to provide a more comprehensive picture of family processes supporting children’s development of prosocial behavior, this study took a process-oriented approach to examine direct effects of positive marital relationship quality, supportive coparenting, and sibling positive involvement on older and younger siblings’ development of helping and sharing behaviors. This study also investigated indirect effects of positive marital relationship quality and supportive coparenting on older and younger siblings’ helping and sharing behaviors through sibling positive involvement. Supporting extant findings on the development of prosocial behavior, results revealed that older siblings engaged in more helping behavior during a sibling task than younger siblings. Additionally, older and younger siblings did not differ in their engagement in sharing during the sibling task. Results also provide support for continuing to examine prosocial behavior as a multidimensional construct. Finally, results from actor-partner interdependence models showed that positive marital relationship quality was positively associated with older and younger siblings’ positive involvement. Overall, this study underscores the importance of continuing to examine whole-family dynamics in order to more fully understand socialization processes influencing children’s development of prosocial behaviors across early childhood.