Child Trends: The impact of siblings

Approximately 80% of Americans have at least one brother or sister and research shows kids today are more likely to grow up with a sibling than a father.  This prompts researchers to ask ‘what kind of influence can siblings have on each other?’

Researchers in Canada looked at sibling pairs in 452 families to measure empathy. The investigators pretended to be hurt and recorded how each child responded, then repeated the scenario 18 months later.

Results showed kids who had very empathetic siblings during the first experiment became more empathetic themselves over the 18 months.

To teach kids empathy, experts say talk about their emotions, so they can express themselves. connect their behaviors with feelings so kids understand cause and effect and teach emotional sharing or feeling sad for others when they’re in distress. It’s also important to remember siblings may be another key to helping you raise an empathetic child. 

Interestingly, older siblings were more influential when there was a bigger age gap between them and the younger sibling. 

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