There are beliefs and theories surrounding birth order, such as: Panganays tend to be leaders; middle kids are the troublemakers, and the bunso gets all the attention and (almost) everything that he or she wants.
And while older kids are naturally expected to teach their younger siblings, they, too, learn an essential trait just by having a younger brother or sister.
A study in Child Development showed that little ones who have older siblings develop a stronger sense of empathy. And it works the other way around, too. Older siblings also learn and develop empathy by having younger siblings and spending time with them.
Researchers from the University of Toronto in Canada gathered about 450 pairs of siblings whose ages range from 18 months to four years old. They measured the children's empathy levels at the start of the study by visiting their homes and pretending to hurt themselves or break a precious and cherished item. Then, they explained what they felt to the kids and recorded their reactions. After 18 months, the researchers returned to visit the kids and did the similar empathy exercise, and looked into how living with a sibling affected their personality.
"We found that both younger and older siblings positively contributed to each other’s empathy over time," study co-author Marc Jambon, postdoctoral fellow at the University of Toronto, said in a statement. It's a two-way street—it's not just the younger ones who learn from their ates and kuyas, but the older sibs also learn from their little siblings.
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The results of the study remained the same even after taking into consideration family demographics, parenting styles, and sibling relationship quality. "The effects stayed the same for all children in the study with one exception: younger brothers didn't contribute to significant changes in older sisters' empathy," Jambon said. The reason behind it, though, is still being explored.
Of course, there is a slight increase in empathy levels for younger siblings whose older brothers or sisters are warm, kind, and supportive of them. But if relationship quality isn't ideal and yet the kids still displayed improved empathy, then that's even more good news. Though it seems that your children always end up fighting whenever you put them in the same room together, those instances remain to be learning opportunities for your kids.
Another noteworthy point in the study is that the age gap matters. The influence of older brothers and sisters was stronger in families in which the age difference between the siblings was more significant, compared to families whose kids are close in age. Researchers argue that the longer age gap may mean that the older kids become more effective teachers and role models for the little ones.
You might want to consider these points when planning your family. It may not be a popular choice today, but having more kids has its benefits for both parents and kids. It's not easy having more than one child, but the benefits may be worth the sacrifice.
Having a sibling helps children's cognitive development, boosts mental health, helps maintain healthy weight, and now, may aid in teaching kids empathy. Those characteristics are a good starter recipe for a successful life.