Siblings Target of Intervention Program

July 1, 2009

Siblings are Special, a pilot prevention program targeting fifth graders and their younger siblings, recently received $1.45 million from the National Institute on Drug Abuse as part of the National Institutes of Health's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding.

The program aims to enhance the quality of sibling and family relationships and thereby decrease risky behavior and use of drugs among youth as they move into middle school. Previous research has shown that siblings are powerful influences on each other's development and well-being, yet sibling conflict and rivalry—which parents say is their number one stressor at home—has largely been ignored by researchers.

Dr. Mark Feinberg, senior research associate, Prevention Research Center, Penn State's College of Health and Human Development, and Dr. Susan McHale, professor of human development and family studies and director, Penn State's Social Science Research Institute, developed the program and are co-principal investigators on the project.

Participants will be chosen from fifth grade students with siblings no more than three years younger than them. Half the sibling pairs will go through the pilot program while the other half will be in the control group. The sibling pairs will attend weekly after-school sessions over twelve weeks and parents will join the children for four "family fun nights" where parents will be engaged as collaborators in the program. The siblings will receive homework each week.

The program combines the power of family intervention within the context of elementary school and a non-stigmatizing family focus on sibling relationships. Schools in rural and semi-rural Pennsylvania will participate in this pilot study, which will run for two years.


Editors: Dr. Feinberg may be reached at 814-865-8796 or at Dr. McHale may be reached at 814-865-2663 or For additional information, please contact the College of Health and Human Development Office of College Relations at 814-865-3831 or