Siblings Help Develop Empathy In Each Other, Study Says

Forget sibling rivalry

By: Amanda Mushro


Three pretty little blond girls close up

Photo by: petrenkod


If you’ve been thinking about changing your little one’s status from only child to big brother or sister, science says go ahead and add to your brood because having a sibling will help make your child a better, kinder and more understanding person.

Researchers at the University of Calgary and the University of Toronto released a study that says siblings can have a dramatic positive effect on each other. According to the study, older siblings can help boost the younger sibling’s language development, their understanding of others’ minds and points of view, and help encourage their development of empathy.

“We found that children who are kind, supportive and understanding influence their siblings to act and behave in similar ways,” say the authors of the study. “And if one sibling is struggling to be empathic but has a sibling with strong empathy skills, they manage to become more empathic over time.”

For the study, researchers examined an ethnically diverse group of 452 Canadian siblings and their mothers. The families’ interactions were videotaped at home, and all of the mothers completed questionnaires about their children’s levels of empathy. They found that it’s not just the younger siblings who reap all the benefits of this emotional learning.

"We found that both younger and older siblings positively contributed to each other's empathy over time," explains Marc Jambon, who led the study. "These findings stayed the same, even after taking into consideration each child's earlier levels of empathy and factors that siblings in a family share.”

As parents, there are so many skills we want to teach our kids, but researchers of the study say teaching kids to be empathetic can help them their entire lives. “Learning to be empathic early in development can set in motion lifelong strengths in treating others with kindness, respect and understanding. Empathic children become empathic friends, spouses and parents.”

Two interesting points from the study that researchers noted were younger brothers did not contribute to significant changes in older sisters’ empathy, and the influence that an older sibling had on a younger sibling was stronger when there was a larger age gap.

While it’s not always rainbows and butterflies with siblings, it’s nice to know they are sharing more than germs and arguments over their favorite toys.

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