For anyone who has refereed a sibling shouting match, it might be easy to question how beneficial it is to have a brother or sister. But recent research underscores the positive impact that these relationships can have.
In a study published in the Journal of Research on Adolescence last fall, Brigham Young University researchers found that sibling relationships help kids develop sympathy, which over time can foster “prosocial” behaviors such as helping and sharing with others. This effect was independent of children’s relationships with their parents and friends.
Whether or not siblings fight wasn’t the biggest factor; what mattered most was that they have affection for each other, says study coauthor Laura Padilla-Walker. The findings showed that boys and girls benefit equally from positive sibling relationships — a surprise to the researchers, since boys typically report less of a benefit from peer relationships than do girls.
“Siblings provide a unique opportunity for children and teens to resolve conflict and take the perspective of another person, both of which promote feelings of caring and concern,” Padilla-Walker said in an e-mail. Disputes between young sibs give parents a chance to help kids see each other’s viewpoint and understand how their behavior makes others feel, she added.
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Encouraging good sibling relationships is particularly important given that hostile brother or sister relationships (i.e., those lacking in affection) were correlated with subsequent depression in boys and girls and behavioral problems in boys. By helping children resolve conflict without aggressive or unkind words and behaviors, parents can help children learn these skills on their own, Padilla-Walker says.
Sympathy and helpfulness aren’t the only potential benefits of sibling relationships. Research out of the University of Essex in England found that they can also help boost younger siblings’ grades.
Looking at national exam marks over four years, researchers Cheti Nicoletti and Birgitta Rabe found that for each test grade improvement by an older sibling — for example, from a B to an A — the younger sibling’s marks rose by 4 percent. The effect was greater among siblings from poorer families, for which each test grade improvement by the older sibling was linked to an 11 percent increase in the younger one’s scores.
The study was meant to determine whether investments in education might have “multiplier” effects through impacts on younger children. The researchers found the improvement to younger siblings’ scores was equal to the impact of spending around 670 pounds extra per year (a little over $1,000) on the younger sibling’s schooling.
Teaching younger siblings, helping with homework, and passing on information about schools and teachers are among the ways that older siblings can directly affect younger brothers or sisters’ grades, the researchers wrote.Ami Albernaz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
With Labor Day weekend in our recent memories, I'm reminded that having siblings is both a blessing and a curse that not everyone gets to experience. I'm lucky enough to have four younger siblings, and they all make my life infinitely more interesting (though not always in a good way). Here are some pros and cons of having siblings that not everyone might realize:
Pro: They're built-in best friends.
You've known your siblings for longer than you've known anyone else, and you're like, required to love them. You were never without someone to play with as a kid because your sibling was there, and as you get older, you always have someone to talk to or ask for advice (or to go like your Instagram picture).
Con: They're not required to be friendly.
Just because they love you doesn't mean they'll always be nice to you. My siblings have for years talked about starting a website called "www.ellieisfat.com" and are always the first to make fun of a bad haircut or a weird habit.
Pro: They teach you responsibility.
Being a sibling means you have someone looking up to you as an example at all times. You have to be responsible for them and what they learn, or else you'll end up being associated with weird siblings. And no one wants that.
Con: You sometimes take the blame for things you haven't done.
Being responsible means that even if it wasn't your fault, it was. So if someone gets hurt while you're babysitting your siblings, you're the one to blame.
Pro: You always have someone to hang out with.
Bored? There are other kids who live less than 10 feet from you. It's like college, but where just strolling into someone's room to say "hi" while not wearing pants isn't weird.
Con: You don't always get to do what you want.
Agreeing on what game to play when you're with a group of five people of ages spread over 12 years is almost impossible. As the oldest, I almost always have to give in and end up playing games designed for ages 6 to 10. And don't get me started on TV shows; I've always been a hit with kids I babysit because I know the words to every theme song Disney Channel Junior plays.
Pro: They'll always have your back.
I know my siblings will always support me, and I'll always support them. I want what's best for them, and I want them to be happy. Having people that are always looking out for you is the best feeling in the world.
Though my siblings used to drive me crazy, I'm becoming more and more thankful for them as the years go on, and I couldn't imagine my life without them.