My sister is almost two years younger than I am. Despite me being the older sibling, she has taught me many important lessons throughout our lives — even as children. She is, after all, a teacher, so this actually makes plenty of sense to me now that we are adults. She shaped my development in inexplicable ways. But does this hold true for other younger siblings? Well, yes it does. Studies absolutely show that having a younger sibling can make your child a better person.
I reached out to Sheri Madigan, PhD, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Calgary, to ask about the phenomenon of older siblings learning from younger siblings. "Popular wisdom suggests that the influencer is the older sibling, assuming they are more knowledgeable and experienced. But our research shows that it works both ways, both younger and older siblings can be influencers or role models," she explains.
Dr. Madigan was one of the researchers who contributed to a paper published in the journal Child Development by a group of researchers at the University of Toronto and the University of Calgary, which explained that siblings have an impact on one another's development. According to IFL science, the researchers studied siblings in more than 400 homes to find that both younger and older siblings contribute to the development of empathy in each other.
"Specifically, we’ve found that older siblings with high empathy can influence younger siblings’ empathy development and vice versa, younger siblings can influence the older siblings to become more empathic. Ultimately, as long as one sibling is empathic, the other sibling benefits," Dr. Madigan says.
While the older children in the household might be the ones who reach behavioral and developmental milestones first, that doesn't mean that they don't have anything to learn from younger siblings. In an article for The Conversation, Dr. Madigan, along with researchers Marc Jambon and Jennifer Jenkins, wrote, "Older siblings can be role models to the younger siblings, and vice versa —younger siblings with strong empathy skills can be role models to their older siblings."
An article in Psychology Today by Hara Estroff Marano cites that, "The 82 percent of Americans with siblings typically spend their early years interacting with each other far more than with outsiders." With that in mind, it is no wonder that siblings can teach each other a multitude of important skills. While older siblings might be able to teach a younger sibling physical skills like throwing and catching a ball or how to clean their room, younger siblings play a role in molding the interpersonal skills of their older siblings.
Regardless of their levels of empathy, of course, siblings will fight. But through the course of this natural behavior, they're actually learning from each other. More specifically, older siblings will learn through squabbles with their younger counterparts how to manage their emotions.
According to an article by Kids Health, "As kids cope with disputes, they also learn important skills that will serve them for life — like how to value another person's perspective, how to compromise and negotiate, and how to control aggressive impulses." If you can put in a pair of ear plugs and brace yourself through the arguments and sibling rivalry phases, your kids might just be better for having fought with each other.
Science says that your older kid may learn some serious life skills from their younger siblings. So even though they may not always get along and the near-constant bickering may be enough to drive any parent absolutely batty, giving your child the gift of a younger sibling could be truly beneficial to their overall success in life.