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What Siblings Are Good For (And How To Thrive Without Them)

There’s nothing like the sweetness of siblings. Watching my girls fall asleep holding hands is one of the most heart-melting sights I’ve ever beheld. Seeing the older one read to her little sister makes me smile every time.

Until the moment passes and they start scrapping over whose book it is or whose butt is two inches over some imaginary line into the other’s spot on the couch.

Ah, siblings. There may be nothing so sweet as a sisterly embrace, but there’s no frustration as pure and inescapable as your little sister messing with your stuff and somehow getting Mom to blame you for the trouble.

In an interview with Salon, author Jeffrey Kluger shares what he’s learned about these unique relationships while writing his book “The Sibling Effect”.

Siblings, Kluger tells us, teach us our most basic social skills. Whether we learn to defend ourselves from a bullying big brother or spend our time mentoring a baby, it’s with our siblings that we first figure out how to have relationships with peers. The skills we pick up in the playroom last a lifetime, and shape who we become as adults. As Kluger puts it:

There is a lot of real-time nimble improvisation that goes on when we’re learning how to deal with different relationships and conflicts as they come up, as well as how to embrace and settle into happy moments. When you learn conflict-resolution skills in the playroom, you then practice them on the playground, and that in turn stays with you.

No surprise there, really. Anyone who grew up with another kid in the house will be aware of the impact that relationship had on their personality. Whether we’re close to our siblings as adults or not, they leave their mark on our childhoods.

What if you’re only planning on having one kid? Don’t sweat it. You might be depriving your darling of some of the benefits siblings convey to each other, but only children have advantages to. According to Kluger, they’re better at everything from academics to making friends. The reason for this is really interesting:

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.

Kluger also stresses that oldest children get an IQ boost and some associated advantages because they spend their earliest years as only children, with all the parental resources devoted only to them.

If siblings detract so much from the resources a kid gets from her parents, why does Kluger think they’re so great? In essence, because they’re a unique and irreplaceable peer relationship. It’s not that we have to have siblings to thrive. But if we do have brothers and sisters, cultivating close relationships with them throughout our lives can be a precious resource. Our siblings are the only people who will know us from childhood through old age. They see us through every stage of life in a way no one else can.

It’s almost enough to make me call my sister.

Photo: Dottie Mae

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