Methods: Families who endorsed at least one incident of IPV over the 2019-2020 year were recruited from an online survey about child adjustment outcomes and family functioning. Convenience sampling was used to recruit six families. Parents completed a demographic survey, and both participating children were individually interviewed and participated in a joint video-recorded play session. Using a descriptive phenomenological analysis, key themes describing how IPV-exposed children experience their sibling relationships were identified from the individual interview and play session audio data. Video data were also analyzed using a pre-established coding scheme. Composite textual and structural descriptions were then developed from the audio data and representative interactions in the video play sessions.
Results: Of the six families in this study, the majority were white (83.33%), low-income (66.67%), and reported psychological IPV (100.00%) at the time of original survey data collection. Families had, on average, three children and the average age gap between participating siblings was four years. Five girls and seven boys were included in the study. Across all sibling dyads, 64.68% of their play interactions reflected positive interactions. Five main themes of sibling relationships emerged: siblings as playmates and companions; siblings as caregivers; siblings as sources of affection; siblings as sources of annoyance and distress; and siblings as problem-solvers.
Conclusions & Implications: These findings suggest that some relationships may be characterized by both high warmth and high conflict, and that frequent conflict can occur among siblings because of their proximity and frequency of contact. Taken together, these findings underscore the range of ways in which children engage in adaptive conflict management and resolution with their sibling and underscore the importance of assessment tools that can more precisely parse out different patterns of conflict among siblings. Additional research is needed, too, to understand IPV-exposed sibling relational dynamics among diverse families and in different cultural contexts. For children who are in caretaking roles, practitioners can work with the family ensure that children are experiencing age-appropriate responsibilities, while also honoring the ways in which caretaking may be a source of purpose and meaning. Systems interfacing with children exposed to IPV, including the child welfare and family court system, must consider the protective role of the sibling relationship when considering placement and visitation decisions.