In his book, “The Sibling Effect,” science writer Jeffrey Kluger discusses why sibling relationships are the most important ones in our lives.
We took the best facts from the interview and put them together here for you in this handy slideshow. Some of them will surprise you, and some of them definitely won’t.
'So many of the sibling dynamics we find in the home are replicated in the natural, non-human world, and so much of what I found is universal across several hundreds of species. When you get up to humans, we've embroidered and built on these dynamics in all kinds of elaborate ways, but human sibling relationships are deeply rooted into the evolutionary chain.'
'Your parents leave you too soon and your kids and spouse come along late, but your siblings know you when you are in your most inchoate form. Assuming you all reach a ripe old age, they'll be with you until the very end, and for that reason, there is an intimacy and a familiarity that can't possibly be available to you in any other relationship throughout your life. Certainly, people can get along without siblings. Single children do, and there are people who have irreparably estranged relationships with their siblings who live full and satisfying lives, but to have siblings and not make the most of that resource is squandering one of the greatest interpersonal resources you'll ever have.'
'When you learn conflict-resolution skills in the playroom, you then practice them on the playground, and that in turn stays with you. If you have a combative sibling or a physically intimidating, older sibling, you learn a lot about how to deal with situations like that later in life. If you're an older sibling and you have a younger sibling who needs mentoring or is afraid of the dark, you develop nurturing and empathic skills that you wouldn't otherwise have.'
'There is ruggedness, a winking lack of complete seriousness or grimness, to a girl who grew up with brothers. There's a greater degree of sensitivity and listening skills in boys who grew up with sisters. Studies show that when you pair people up in 5- to 15-minute conversations, as if it were a speed date, the males who grew up with sisters tend to do better than the ones who grew up with brothers or as only children. Similarly, the females with brothers tend to do better with boys. This is because you learn a little bit about how to turn the tumblers of the opposite sex.'
'That's why they tend to invest in greater ways in friendships outside the home and be much less connected to the family.'
'Youngest kids tend to develop a greater ability to use low-power strategies, like getting inside the minds of and charming other people, because they're the smallest child in the house. When you can't thump your older siblings to get what you need, you learn to disarm them by being funny, or you learn to have a better intuitive sense. The biggest advantage a youngest child gets that middle children do not is to eventually become an only child.'
After about 6 years, your step siblings can become as close as biological siblings. Until then, its all about competition
'With blended families you can get explosions of the traditional birth-order sequence, which can be very disorienting, but also educational, for kids...On the other hand, if blended families survive beyond the benchmark of six years, the relationships between step-siblings are often as intimate and enduring as the ones between full siblings. In some ways they can be better because they're devoid of that biological competition for parental attention.'
'Property is the biggest one. With very young kids, when researchers look at what the causes of fights are, some 80 per cent of all fights in the playroom break out over property disputes...Parents shouldn't just roll their eyes, even though conflicts over sharing are so common, because property for a small child is a critical way of establishing authority and control over a world in which they have virtually no power.'
'When your parents, who are the anchors you're counting on the most, are falling down on the job, siblings look to each other and find ways to pull together, because the last thing you can afford to see fractured at that point is the unit among yourselves.'
'The loss of a parent can draw kids closer together. In fact, if a parent dies, older siblings will quickly jump into that breach to become caretakers and gentle disciplinarians. Sometimes parents have to instruct an older child to fill in and help encourage the younger siblings to clean up their room or do their homework, but often that isn't necessary.'
'You can't treat your children equally, because they're very different people and they have different needs. Age is the obvious driver of this, because older children will get certain privileges and freedoms that younger kids don't get, and younger kids will get indulgences that older children won't get. But if your older child is a natural student and your younger student is a natural artist or athlete, you've got to look early at what the aptitudes are -- not only to support them but also to celebrate them. It's important to understand that kids will often de-identify from their older siblings...Parents have to be aware that it is critical for kids to find their niche in the family as the smart one, the pretty one, the funny one or the athlete.'
BONUS: But don't worry if you have no siblings, you get exposure to the adult world before those with siblings
'Only children tend to exceed other kids in terms of academic accomplishments, sophistication, vocabulary, and often, social skills as well. They have a great ability to make and maintain friends, and to resolve conflict, because they have to be nimble about learning skills outside the home, like in daycare, play groups, and school. One of the advantages of being an only child in the home is that the conversations you hear and participate in, the TV shows you watch, and the vacations you go on tend to skew older. All these things become food for the developing brain, and by the time the child is in first grade, he or she has a background in adult thinking and abstract concepts that children with siblings just don't get.'
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