When I was a kid, my sister and I shared a room. I liked my side neat and orderly. My sister’s side, on the other hand, was a tsunami of toys and papers and zillions of clothes. We would argue about boundaries all the damn time, and at one point, I even put a line of duct tape down the center of the floor and declared a rule of engagement should she need to enter my side to get to the coveted closet space. It was basically the sibling version of the Cold War.
Even though my sister and I fought all the time over everything from hair doodads to closet space, we also couldn’t sleep unless the other was across the room. And as we grew older, our bond strengthened by sharing secrets, offering advice, trading clothes, and crushing on cute boys.
Having a sister by my side while growing up taught me many incredible lessons about the unique (and often frustrating) bond that folded into layers of trust and friendship. And now, thanks to an 8-year-old study that’s making the rounds on the Internet again, science is confirming what I already know to be true: sister relationships are basically a mental health tonic.
In the study, which was first released by the School of Family Life at Brigham Young University in 2010, researchers discovered that having an older or younger sister can help ease the blues for kids between the ages of 10 and 14 years.
Professor Laura Padilla-Walker, who teaches at BYU and who led the study, noted that, “Even after you account for parents’ influence, siblings do matter in unique ways. They give kids something that parents don’t.”
Researchers found that people with sisters can “learn how to make up and to regain control of their emotions,” which are skills that undoubtedly serve children well in adulthood.
The revival of this study actually comes on the heels of another newer study released just this month, which demonstrates that it’s not just the older kids and parents who influence and shape children as they grow. It turns out that younger siblings do too, and what’s more, they may also give their older siblings a greater chance of developing empathy.
The Canadian study followed 452 pairs of siblings, all between a year-and-a-half and 4 years old. The researchers noted “baseline empathy” before a sibling was introduced into the home and what they found was intriguing; having a younger sibling increased the older sibling’s level of empathy.
That was certainly a similar connection in the BYU study, as well.
“For parents, the message is to encourage sibling affection,” Padilla-Walker told BYU News in 2010. “Once they get to adolescence, it’s going to be a big protective factor.”
As the mom of two rowdy boys, I often wonder what kinds of lessons they will learn from their younger sister. Perhaps they will be the same lessons I learned from mine: that cooler heads always prevail and that the fierce love of a sibling is sometimes the one thing that remind me that the big bad world won’t swallow me whole.
As a sister, this research confirms that sisters are pretty damn amazing in making the world a much saner and lovely place to be. And as a parent, this study gives me hope that all those arguments between my kids may actually be laying the groundwork for diplomacy, empathy, and conflict-resolution skills.