Ah, siblings. As anyone with a brother or sister knows, there’s nothing quite like the bond you share with him or her. But did you know that your relationship with your sib might actually help both of you develop one of the most important human qualities on earth — empathy? If you’re feeling a little skeptical, we think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by a recent study. (We know we were!)
The February 2018 findings, published in Canadian Development, analyzed 452 sibling pairs and their moms over a period of 18 months. Starting when the kids were about 18 to 48 months old, the researchers videotaped interactions in the kids’ homes and had the moms fill out questionnaires. After the 18-month period was over, the scientists measured kids’ empathy by studying their facial expressions when an adult researcher pretended to be hurt or distressed. They found that siblings play an enormously valuable role in developing each other’s empathy levels — even when they’re just little tykes.
One of the most exciting revelations from the study — and one that will help your peace of mind even when your kids are bickering — is that younger and older siblings can actually work together as a dream team to nurture one another. It’s easy to assume that it’s mostly older kids helping the younger kids develop, especially since they’re typically seen as the role models. But it looks like younger siblings can play just as crucial of a role in shaping their older sibs’ empathy levels over time. (Ahem, not that this is a surprise to any of us younger siblings out there.)
“Our findings emphasize the importance of considering how all members of the family — not just parents and older siblings — contribute to children’s development,” said coauthor Sheri Madigan, PhD in a release. “The influence of younger siblings has been found during adolescence, but our study indicates that this process may begin much earlier than previously thought.”
How beautiful is it that the sibling bond goes so deep that it helps us develop the vital ability to understand and relate to other human beings in the world? And how satisfying is it that younger sibs are finally getting the credit they deserve?
Be sure to let your brother or sister know!