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Band of Brothers and Sisters: The Benefit of Siblings

By Martha Michael

Siblings: Better Together

Whether your memories of childhood include fort-building and hair-braiding or food fighting and hair-pulling, growing up with siblings has its advantages. Your experiences with brothers and sisters certainly can be negative, but children who grow up with other kids in the home also gain some useful life lessons along the way.

Sibling Impact

One of the reasons our sibling relationships are important is simply because of the quantity of time they are with us, says an article in Time Magazine.

“From the time they are born, our brothers and sisters are our collaborators and co-conspirators, our role models and cautionary tales,” the article says. “They are our scolds, protectors, goads, tormentors, playmates, counselors, sources of envy, objects of pride. They teach us how to resolve conflicts and how not to; how to conduct friendships and when to walk away from them. Sisters teach brothers about the mysteries of girls; brothers teach sisters about the puzzle of boys. Our spouses arrive comparatively late in our lives; our parents eventually leave us. Our siblings may be the only people we'll ever know who truly qualify as partners for life.”

The end of childhood does not have to end your relationship with your siblings, but even if you grow distant, these connections can have long-range effects. The level to which your siblings steered you into and out of trouble probably influenced the lifestyle choices you practice today. The family dynamics that shape you can impact how you seek recognition in the boardroom or provide a template for your marriage relationship. Some of those influences become conscious decisions, such as the way children watch older siblings unsuccessfully navigate life’s challenges and then alter course to avoid some of the same landmines.

If you’re the youngest in the family you won’t remember your first acquaintance with your older siblings, but the effects begin right away. An article by Advokids, an advocacy organization for foster children, says it’s clear the sibling relationship typically contributes positively to the health and welfare of a young child. When social workers or other professionals consider the placement of children, they see the advantages of preserving their connections to siblings.

“For children entering care, being with siblings can enhance their sense of safety and well-being,” the article says. “Siblings in the same home can provide natural support to each other and some sense of stability and belonging. Continuity of sibling relationships assists children in maintaining a positive sense of identity and knowledge of their cultural, personal, and family histories.”

Research shows that separating siblings can increase negative outcomes such as:

  • Placement disruption
  • Running away
  • Failure to exit the foster system
  • Mental health challenges
  • Poor socialization

Impact of Birth Order

Psychologists say your birth order plays a part in personality development and forms some of your motives and tendencies. An article on Moms.com says that growing up with other children in the home can boost your emotional quotient, or EQ. As they develop an empathy for you and understand your thoughts, intentions and beliefs, you learn to do the same for others. Certain activities between brothers and sisters increase their ability to sense the emotions of others, especially those involving make-believe.

By studying birth order, psychologists can explain some of the personality traits that define people in contrast to one another. Middle children tend to have a laid-back attitude and less ambition than an oldest child, for instance. They often become great at negotiation and mediation.

Firstborns can be more serious than most, and they often take on leadership and teaching roles as adults. Youngest children frequently become more creative and outgoing than those ahead of them, though their actions are also affected by watching and imitating their older siblings.

Adult Siblings

If you haven’t stayed in close contact with your brothers and sisters, it’s never too late to reconnect. There are many benefits to middle-aged or older adults reaching out to their siblings.

An article in Huffpost says there’s a correlation between sibling bonding and your overall health, particularly in boosting your mood.

According to a study at Brigham Young University, having a good relationship with a sister reduces feelings of guilt, loneliness, and self-consciousness. And leafing through photo albums increases feelings of optimism.

Staying connected to siblings may also improve your physical health. A global survey by Edelman Health Barometer says that 46 percent of respondents believe their family and friends have the greatest impact on their habits, including their commitment to routine exercise.

You have no control over how many siblings you grow up with, but as an older adult you can choose to tap into the positive outcomes that connecting to them offers you. In some ways it’s easier now. Playing “Go Fish” can involve poles, reels and tackle instead of cards.

Whether Barbie Wars blew up your relationship or you lost your brother when you dismantled his cardboard race car, perhaps it’s time to rebuild. Or at least you can recognize the treasure that was buried in hours of sword play.

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