Psychologists Say: 20 Ways Siblings Impact A Child's Development

The decision whether to have children or not is one most people will ask themselves sometime in life. Does potential mom want to have babies young? Maybe she wants to wait until her work life is more established? Does she even want kids? It's a serious life decision that needs to be taken seriously considering there's only so much time to do it.

More importantly, when a couple decides to have a baby, they have to ask themselves if this will be their only one. Perhaps one baby is demanding enough, and being a family of three works better for them. Or maybe their only child brings them so much joy, that they want more so baby can have siblings. Other couples just kinda wing it and whatever will be, will be. The decision is sometimes planned or not-planned, but it's one that's personal to every couple.

Science has examined the whole 'sibling vs. no sibling' thing, and the results are both surprising and interesting. As it turns out, the birth order totally has an impact on a child's personality, as does the distance in age between them and their siblings. One thing is for sure, though: having a sibling impacts a person for good and for worse.

20 Smarter Than You Think

Does having more than one child have a role in how intelligent they become? Child-Encyclopedia notes that siblings take part in each other's sentiments. "Siblings play an important role in the development of children’s understanding of others’ minds, namely their understanding of emotions, thoughts, intentions, and beliefs."

Those with siblings are also able to do the same with their friends and others around them: "Siblings seem to demonstrate an understanding of others’ minds and emotions during real-life interactions long before they show this understanding on more formal assessments." These reactions can be transferred to how they play, as well.

"Young siblings who engage in frequent pretend play demonstrate a greater understanding of others’ emotions and thinking, show evidence of creativity in their play themes and object use, and are more likely to construct shared meanings in play."

19 Sibling Conflict


When you have more than one child, it's inevitable that they're going to fight somewhere down the line. One might not be sharing, while the other is taking away mommy's time more than usual... Kids will find anything to make a fuss over, especially when they have a sibling. But as Child Encyclopedia states, how they bounce back from these disagreements is how their parents handle them. The site claims, "extreme levels of childhood sibling conflict are related to later [rude] tendencies as adults. High levels of conflict may be particularly problematic when they are accompanied by an absence of sibling warmth."

As long as parents help their kids work it out and teach them empathy — they could be on the right track.

18 Birth Order

I grew up with two other siblings — me being the middle child. My older brother was always the more serious of the three, I was the lighthearted goofball who lead us around, and my youngest was the out-going child. Apparently, though, these personality traits weren't random. Our birth order came into play. "Those caught in the middle tend to be people pleasers, laid back, and less ambitious. Growing up with older and younger siblings could make you more concerned with fairness as you get older, and as a result, these siblings tend to become great negotiators," The Huffington Post noted. While I definitely don't think I'm "less ambitious" than my siblings, there's definitely some truth to these personality traits in bigger families.

17 The Opposite Gender

One of the best parts about having multiple children is seeing how similar (and un-similar) they are. Many hope that when they have a boy and a girl, they balance each other out. Perhaps the girl can show her brother how to be compassionate, and maybe the brother can show his sister how to do an activity. Health explains that "having a brother or sister of the opposite [gender] could give a sibling an advantage when it came to dating and finding a partner." Maybe interacting with the opposite gender can give the other experience and comfortability with them.

Medical Daily also talks about a 1983 study that showed opposite-gender siblings "found it easier to make conversation with potential romantic partners" when they made it to college.

16 Empathy Is Contagious

You don't need a sibling to learn about empathy. However, perhaps being around someone you look up to is more of an authentic way to learn about empathy. Those at The Conversation noted, "We found that children who are kind, supportive, and understanding influence their siblings to act and behave in similar ways. And if one sibling is struggling to be empathic, but has a sibling with strong empathy skills, they manage to become more empathic over time." As a parent, showing your children how to be empathetic is putting them on the right track emotionally. What one child lacks, the other can make up for and later inspire.

15 Social Skills Rely On Siblings

I have two brothers, and I sometimes wonder what kind of person I would be had I grown up without them. Would I be as fiercely protective as I am? Would I be so empathetic towards those with younger siblings? Would I enjoy family traditions as much? It's tough to tell, but Wiley Online Library explains "Hierarchical regression analyses suggested girls without a sibling had greater perspective-taking than girls with brothers." Likewise, "boys with brothers seemed to somewhat benefit in perspective-taking and increases in social skills over one year were observed among children with a younger sister."

To put it simply: girls with no siblings had a better perspective on understanding than those with brothers. And boys with brothers have the same result.

14 Imitation Is The Best Form Of Flattery

Many first-borns feel this intense obligation to take care of their younger sibling. They're in charge and need to show their youngest sibling the ropes. "First-born siblings engage in leadership, teaching, caregiving, and helping roles," Child-Encyclopedia says. Just as first-borns have an obligation to being the oldest, younger siblings feel a similar emotion: "Second-born siblings are more likely to imitate, follow, be a learner, and elicit care and help." This means younger siblings are bound to imitate their older sibling at home and during playtime until they find their own role. For parents of multiples, having your kids play together could have more benefits than giving you some alone time.

13 Big Brother Is Watching You

You could ask any younger sibling if they look up to their older sibling, and they'll respond "no." As they get older, though, they may be more honest about their feelings, explaining how much they looked up to their siblings — they just weren't aware of it at the time. Curiosity says "If you're a younger sibling, you might not want to admit that you watch your big sis or big bro's every move, but it's true. And if you happen to be the older sibling, your parents are right — your younger siblings do notice when you pick up a bad habit, and they're very likely to copy you."

As annoying as our siblings can be at times, it's clear that a deep bond with them is bound to happen with the help of our parents. And on the flip side, the decision to have more than one child has its ups and downs.

12 One-On-One Support

Most parents decide to have children so that they're never alone. Through the ups and downs of life, those siblings will always have each other. This is especially true during the younger ages: "Siblings can act as sources of support during care taking situations when the mother is absent for a short time, and in middle childhood, siblings may provide support during stressful family experiences." As a middle child, I can wholeheartedly agree with that statement. My parents didn't leave us much, but if it were just the three of us, we would all keep an eye on each other, making sure we were all behaving safely.

11 Family Size May Matter

Did you think your decision on whether to have a big or small family wasn't a big deal? Well, it apparently has an effect on your child(ren). Fox News explains, "Previous research had found that children from large families tend to score lower on vocabulary, IQ, and other academic tests, compared to those from smaller families." Interesting, to say the least. This could be because there's one too many kids, making it harder for parents to keep an eye on everyone. If you have one child, it could be easier to stay on them regarding their education. With multiple, there are a few kids that get lost in the craziness of a big family.

10 Older Siblings Have A Bigger Influence Than Parents

As a child, I looked up to my mother as a beautiful, selfless human being, and to my father as being a hard worker. I definitely looked up to my older and younger sibling the most, though. The Telegraph explains why this is, saying,

"While parents are better role models in formal settings, such as table manners, siblings have more influence on how kids behave 'on the street."

Considering most siblings go to the same school, they can pick up on how to act in social situations. This impact can continue as a child gets older, and when they're in the prime of teenage-hood with darker habits to worry about.

9 Encourage Relationship Development

Science says that siblings who start off on a positive note will stay on that path throughout adulthood. However, there are so many things that can come between siblings — it's not always going to be positivity and rainbows. Regardless of age or tightness, "what's really much more important are the social behaviors that children learn in their early years that they can use to develop a positive relationship with a sibling," The Telegraph says.

 "That's why it's important for parents to encourage siblings to be engaged with one another and develop a relationship where there is mutual respect, cooperation, and the ability to manage problems."

8 A Dependence On Their Parents

I know many people who are still financially dependent on their parents. I also know people who like their space but are still emotionally dependent on their parents. As adult children, we're still, in some way, trying to make our parents proud. As Cornerstones for Parents notes, this may have something to do with birth order. "Studies have found that the oldest child tends to be much more parent-oriented than his younger siblings. The vast physical, social, and mental developmental gap between the oldest child and his parents can cause the oldest child to develop feelings of inadequacy and a need to achieve." Could this be why older siblings feel like they have more stress? From feeling like they need to achieve or do more?

7 A Better Relationship Means Less Delinquent Behavior

Do you think the difference in age amongst siblings has any effect on their psyche? According to Cornerstones for Parents, it doesn't. "Studies have also found that gender and age differences among siblings do not have a significant impact on the development of close relationships." The site also claims "that the benefits of a positive sibling relationship result in positive behavioral outcomes as the children grow up." In an easier way to understand, the closer and more positive the sibling relationship, the less "delinquent behavior." Now, this doesn't mean you have to force your kids to get along 24/7, but making sure they have a strong core could make them better individuals as the time goes on.

6 There's A Benefit In An Age Gap

There are millions of parents who want their kids to be similar in age, hoping that this brings them closer together. Being closer in age can also be helpful for parents when it comes to school, extracurriculars, and play-dates. But As The Conversation notes, a bigger age gap could actually benefit both siblings, as well. "All siblings in our study were within a maximum of four years of one another in age. But we did find that in families where siblings were further apart in age, older brothers and sisters had a stronger influence on their younger siblings." A sibling who is five+ years older is more mature in a lot of areas, and can be seen as another parent-figure.

5 Is Having A Half Sibling Problematic?

Having a half-sibling in 2018 is very common. Many parents get divorced or have been single for a majority of parenthood. When a single parent eventually finds someone compatible, they tend to look for someone with kids as well. It's a bonding area for them.

Medical Daily, however, found research that stated those with half-siblings tend to have a more troubling upbringing. A 2014 study found that those with half-siblings were at a higher percentage (65%) of having legal issues.

"Although the reason for this is not entirely clear, the scientists believe that it’s most likely the parent’s [...]divorce, not the introduction of a half-sibling, that most strongly influences this trend."

4 Siblings See Right Through You

It's very easy for me to tell when my siblings are having a good or bad day. They don't even need to say much, I can tell by their body language. Psychologies said Dr. Terri Apter, a child psychologist, says that siblings know each other better than their parents. "They may not always admire you, but they’ll always be intensely interested in you. If you ask a sibling to describe a parent, a friend or a sibling, it is the sibling that the child will describe with most sophistication and detail, in terms of their character and habits," she says. This can be why having a sibling is so significant in a child's life. Growing up with someone else in the same family is a huge learning moment that never seems to stop.

3 Siblings Could Mean More Productivity

Do you think your child is more productive because they have a sibling? Or do you think your child is more productive because they don't have any siblings around bothering them? Well, according to Psychologies, a Harvard Study on Adult Development proved that "93 percent of the men who were thriving at 65 had been close to a sibling in their early life." The same study also explained that those adults with "poorer relationships" with their siblings could have "depression later in life."

In summary, the closer siblings are throughout the years, the better outcome both will have professionally and emotionally.

2 Easier To Express Oneself

Life seems so easy when you're a child. Making friends is a piece of cake, you can say whatever you want without worry of judgment, and you can play with imaginary friends. The older we get, though, the harder it can be to feel like our truest selves. Those of us with siblings, though, may have an easier time expressing ourselves. "In childhood, it is often easier to express those negative feelings, but as we grow older, we try to suppress unpleasant feelings such as envy and anger," Psychologies says. "This is why so many siblings drift apart."

When we feel anger towards our siblings as adults, we tend to back away from them because we don't want to hurt that relationship. But at the same time, we're sabotaging it by backing away and not voicing our opinions.

1 Equality Leads To Less Sibling Rivalry

Parents of multiples try their best to treat all their kids equally. No one wants to be yelled at for having a "favorite child" during the holidays.

"Rates of sibling rivalry are lower in families where children feel they are treated equally by their parents and where their place in the family is respected and valued," Better Health claims.

The more equal children are treated, the better their relationship will be with each other, and the more they'll understand their role within the family. An Australian study also noted that "Generally, a child's opinion of their relationship with a sibling is more optimistic than a parent's view of the relationship."

Resources: Child-EncyclopediaTheTelegraphCornerstones for ParentsOnlineLibraryMedical DailyPsychologiesBetterHealth

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