Oh, the joys of having multiple children. The incessant fighting over the silliest of circumstances, like who has more Cheerios in their bowl, or who got into their car seat first. Sometimes it might seem like all your kid learns from their siblings is how to have petty arguments and bicker nonstop. And kicking. Lots and lots of kicking.
But then, you’ll see them interacting in a way that will literally stop you in your tracks and melt your heart. One time, I witnessed my four year-old teaching her two year-old brother how to sing the ABC song, and I think I imploded from happiness and adoration for these two beautiful babies who, just moments before, had been trying to topple each other out of their seats. “The relationship between siblings is complex, and offers an opportunity to influence all aspects of development, such as physical, cognitive, and social/emotional,” says Dr. Allison Buskirk-Cohen, the Chair of the Psychology Department at Delaware Valley University. Which might explain that love them one minute, try to off them the next rollercoaster that defines the sibling experience.
So whether your child is learning Mortal Kombat moves from an older brother, or learning how to do a duck lip selfie with her big sister, there are many opportunities for your kiddos to get a crash course in life — and love — from their siblings. Here’s what else they might pick up along the way.
1. They Learn About Companionship
Siblings often serve as your child’s first playmates. Since they’re closer in age, it makes sense that they’re going to have more shared interests with a sib than with someone else, say, a parent or a caregiver. Because they have automatic built-in buddy status, your children can have fun with each other and, as a result, build a shared history of family memories and special moments together that they can’t have with just friends.
2. They Learn How to Resolve Conflict
Squabbles are par for the course when your family is comprised of more than one kid. Sibling conflict is inevitable, but it can teach children valuable lessons that will serve them well in life. For example, two sisters who want to play with the same American Girl doll will need to use negotiation skills in order to manage their disagreement, advises Buskirk-Cohen. (As opposed to, say, engaging in a tug-of-war that results in the Doll of the Year being ripped limb from limb.) By learning how to manage conflicts in ways that allows their relationship to grow in a more positive manner, they gain important conflict resolution skills that they can use later in life.
3. They Learn Social Behavior
Siblings often help one another, both inside the family home and outside it. They can serve as sources of social support, encouraging each other to try new things. As they age, siblings may help each other to develop academic skills, by pretending to play school or by providing help with actual homework.
4. They Learn How to Lead
It might seem like an older sibling is being bossy to a younger brother or sister, but it could be an example of a teacher/student role play instead. According to a Concordia University study, older siblings tend to fall into teacher mode when interacting with younger sibs. For babies and children who aren’t in school yet, this additional instruction by a big brother or sister can not only help them learn sooner, but it also gives your older child the chance to be a leader. Truly, a win/win for everyone.
5. They Develop Morals
If you thought that you and your partner were the moral police of the fam, think again. Siblings learn about fairness from their interactions together. “While they may lack the terminology, equity and equality are part of their everyday lives,” states Buskirk-Cohen. “For example, siblings may decide that when playing a game, there are different rules applied to a younger sibling than to an older one.” As a parent, you want to make sure that rules stay the same for all of the kids, (like drawing a double red square card in a Candy Land game doesn’t automatically make you the winner) but what better way to learn right from wrong than from your brothers and sisters?
6. They Learn How to Divvy Up The Duties
No matter how big your digs are, there’s always something that has to be done at home. And when chores need to be completed, siblings can work together to complete a task. They have to learn to manage who does what, and, by doing so, they learn the inherently important value of working together, as Frank Bruni wrote for The New York Times. Bigger kids learn to help pick up the slack for smaller sibs who might still be discovering how to wield a broom and dustpan. But ultimately, it’s all about shared responsibility, and what happens when one member of a partnership or group fails to contribute.
7. They Learn Patience
Life slows down significantly for an older child when a brand new bundle of joy emerges on the scene. Suddenly, Mom and Dad can’t dote on their first kid because life has to revolve around the baby — for now, anyway. So your child learns not only that they’re not the center of the universe, (a big ol’ bitter pill to swallow, for sure), but that they have to wait for Mommy to finish feeding the baby, or for Daddy to change that diaper before they can go out and play. Understanding how to delay gratification might be frustrating for an “I want it now” toddler, reported Parents, but it can teach them resilience, understanding, and even build creativity as they look for ways to pass the time until they can get what they desire.
8. They Learn Emotional Understanding
If it seems like your little ones can understand each other without saying a word, you’re probably right. “Children learn how to take another’s perspective and develop emotional understanding,” says Buskirk-Cohen. “For example, an older sibling may need to depend on interpreting nonverbal cues from a younger sibling who has not yet learned to talk.” Being able to read body language will clue your kid on if a sibling needs to be left alone for a while to cool off, or if she actually needs a reassuring hug instead.
9. They Learn About Teamwork
Unlike friends whom your child can pick and choose as she pleases, siblings are stuck with each other for the rest of their lives, whether they like it or not. It doesn’t have to be a life sentence without the possibility of parole, though. Being forced to be together in the same family means that your children will learn how to stick together and work through situations, reported The Huffington Post. That’s why siblings will sometimes cover for each other (i.e. “No, Mom, I have no idea how that vase got broken”), even when they know exactly who did it.
10. They Learn About Friendship
In an ideal world, your child’s older sibling should be his or her best friend. At least, that’s what all the best sister memes that flood Facebook would make you think. Not only do they learn about camaraderie from their interactions with each other, but a younger sister might also learn how friendship functions as she watches how her big sis acts with her own galpals, for example.
11. They Learn To Share
Sure, sharing might be caring, but try explaining that to twin two year-olds who want to simultaneously snuggle with the same lovie. But building sharing skills (even when they don’t want to) can set your child up for success down the road — and easier playdates. Today’s Parent advised that it might even be as simple as learning to take turns. (Think “my turn, your turn.”) And when they see the positive reaction they get from you, they’ll be even more encouraged to fork over that coveted toy car.
12. They Learn How To Take Care Of Others
I’ve seen my younger daughter wipe her baby brother’s mouth when he’s done eating, or console him when he’s gotten a scraped knee. There’s something about having a younger brother or sister that might bring out your older child’s maternal or paternal instinct. Your child may feel protective over the little ones in the family, and the younger ones, in turn, develop a level of respect, admiration, and (dare we say) adoration for their big sibs.
Beyond the bickering, your child can learn so many positive things from their siblings. And while it might not seem like it, every day they’re learning how to be better humans because of their brothers and sisters.