Sibling Influences on Childhood Development

Most of us grow up with siblings, and the sibling bond is the most likely to survive our entire lives. How crucial are siblings as influences on our development? Clinicians and family therapists have long claimed that siblings play an essential and influential role in children's development. However, comprehensive research on sibling impact was limited until the previous two decades.

What has a recent study revealed about the elements that influence how siblings interact with one another? Is there any consistency in the friendliness or enmity between siblings throughout time? What is the evidence regarding sibling influence on adjustment and well-being, social and emotional understanding, and other connections in children?

Individual Differences in Sibling Relationships

Sibling connections are emotionally intense from birth to puberty. According to observational research, most interactions between siblings are highly unpleasant for sure siblings, good feelings are regularly expressed for others, and the emotional quality is ambiguous for others. The emotional nature of the relationship remains consistent from preschool through middle childhood.

Why do Siblings have different Connections with One Another?

In the 1970s and 1980s, research concentrated primarily on birth order, gender, and age gap as causes of individual variations. The data on the impact of the age gap and gender on sibling interactions in early childhood is inconclusive; in middle childhood, gender disparities become more apparent, with males reporting less warmth and intimacy with their brothers. There have been reports of links between children's temperamental qualities and their relationships with their siblings.

However, the conclusions are inconsistent in the research. Recent sibling research has expanded to encompass the quality of intimate connections inside and outside the family as causes of individual variations and evidence for sibling effect on children's sociocognitive development.

Siblings’ Contributions: Older Sibling and Birth Order

Sibling relationships and cognitive development have been linked. For example, Freijo et al. (2006) emphasise the significance of these interactions in developing perspective-taking abilities and understanding of others' emotional and mental states. They also propose that children with older siblings develop the theory of mind skills at a younger age.

Brody (2004) hypothesised that older siblings in middle childhood could teach their younger siblings new language skills and cognitive ideas in early childhood. Older siblings make better instructors throughout middle childhood because they understand how to simplify work for their younger siblings. As older siblings gain the ability to consider other people's viewpoints, their ability to adapt their teaching actions to the capacities of their younger siblings grows.

Zajonc and Markus (1975) discovered that birth order affected various aspects. They discovered that firstborns had greater intellectual capacity than later infants. Kuba et al. (2018), for example, state that they do better in examinations that demand divergent thinking and abstract reasoning and other assessments that measure intellectual ability or intelligence.

Importance of Siblings

Sibling relationships fluctuate at different stages of life, from childhood to old age. When their parents are busy, or not at home, older siblings assist, care for, and protect their younger siblings. Siblings will likely spend much time together in this fashion; thus, knowing their function and significance in one another's life is essential.

According to Lewin and Sharp (2011), siblings are significant not just because of their relationship with their parents but also in their own right. People with siblings had better life satisfaction and reduced rates of depression in old age, presumably because they shared experiences and a feeling of family identity. Siblings give one another emotional and psychological support during illness or disaster. This type of assistance is frequent among siblings who live apart and those who live together. Aside from that, there are other areas in which siblings play an important role in one another's life.

Sibling Relationships and Parent-Child Relationships

Positive parent-child interactions are related to satisfying, loving sibling relationships. In contrast, unfavourable parent-child ties are associated with sibling animosity. According to research, children with solid attachment relationships with their parents have excellent relationships with their siblings. However, causal inferences cannot be inferred from these patterns.

While such associations are frequently perceived as evidence of parental influence, children's temperamental characteristics may contribute to difficulty in relationships with siblings and parents. While a child's sunny disposition may contribute to positive connections with both parents and siblings, continual squabbling among siblings may contribute to challenging parent-child interactions and issues in parent-child relationships.

In contrast to this evidence of antagonism across family connections, several research shows that supportive sibling interactions can form in households with distant or uninterested parent-child relationships. These 'compensatory' family interaction patterns may be more widespread in families experiencing stress and societal hardship.

Siblings may also be sources of support for children growing up in families where there is marital conflict. A longitudinal study reveals that children with a solid warm relationship with a sibling have fewer adjustment issues following horrible life experiences.

Sibling Influences on Adjustment

Evidence has developed for correlations between children's relationships with their siblings, their violent oppositional behaviour, and their internalising (worrying, worried, and depressed behaviour). Influence is passed down from elder to younger siblings and vice versa. Low levels of prosocial activity (caring, sympathetic and helpful attitude, supporting behaviour) are connected with sibling animosity and the development of behavioural issues. These tendencies are independent of harmful parent-child interactions and provide evidence of sibling conflict's direct consequences and negativity on children.

Indirect impacts of siblings on adjustment have also been discovered, such as the effect of varied parent-child relationships on children's adjustment issues. The data from research on the early stages of the sibling connection - the influence of a sibling's birth on children's well-being - is similarly evident. Following the birth of a sibling, firstborn children's difficulties with aggressiveness, reliance, anxiety, and withdrawal have been documented to increase.

Intervention Programmes and Sibling Relationships

The prevalence of sibling conflict, evidence of sibling bullying, and correlations between sibling disputes and children's violent conduct have emphasised minimising sibling conflict as the primary strategy for repairing the relationship, for example, through parent training. The short-term benefits of parental mediation (encouraging thinking, discussing emotions, and considering the other child's perspective) were researched with 5-8-year-olds in Canada.

The youngsters well received the mediation, and the course enabled them to resolve conflict concerns. These treatments lessen conflict but do not strengthen the positive qualities of the relationship. On the other hand, Kramer has provided an excellent evaluation of the positive parts of the relationship and developed a plan for intervention with siblings and parents, 'Fun with Sisters and Brothers,' based on the competencies identified in the review. These competencies include 

  • Play

  • Conversation

  • Mutual enjoyment

  • Valuing help and support

  • Appreciating sibs' unique knowledge of each other

  • Learning to respect sibs' views and interests in addition to one's own

  • Managing emotions in difficult situations

  • Learning to check faulty hostile attributions

  • Refraining from wild behaviour or bossiness

  • Conflict management

The program's impact on sibling relationships is readily anticipated.


Siblings play an essential and influential role in children's development. However, research on sibling impact has been limited until the last two decades. Individual differences in sibling relationships, temperamental qualities, and parent-child relationships are all linked to individual variations. Sibling relationships can play a significant role in children's development of social understanding, as evidenced by correlations between their relationships with their siblings and their violent oppositional behaviour and internalising behaviour.

Low levels of prosocial activity are linked to sibling animosity and behavioural issues and the indirect impacts of siblings on adjustment. Children who experience low levels of warmth in their connections with their mother and sibling perform worse regarding loneliness, self-worth, and bad behaviour.<

Updated on: 10-May-2023


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