Essay on Siblings

Students are often asked to write an essay on Siblings in their schools and colleges. And if you’re also looking for the same, we have created 100-word, 250-word, and 500-word essays on the topic.

Let’s take a look…

100 Words Essay on Siblings

The importance of siblings.

Siblings are like lifelong friends. They are the ones we share our childhood memories with. They teach us about teamwork, sharing, and caring.

Life Lessons from Siblings

Siblings can be our role models. We often learn from their experiences and mistakes. They help us understand the world better.

Siblings and Personality Development

Having siblings can shape our personalities. Interactions with them help us develop social skills and empathy.

In conclusion, siblings play a crucial role in our lives. They are our companions, guides, and friends, making our journey of life more enriching.

250 Words Essay on Siblings

The significance of siblings.

Siblings, often our first peers, play a monumental role in shaping our personalities, values, and understanding of the world. They are our constant companions in the journey of life, offering a unique blend of shared history and mutual growth.

Shared Experiences and Emotional Bonding

The shared experiences between siblings foster a deep emotional bond. From family holidays to mundane household chores, these shared moments build a sense of camaraderie and mutual understanding. This emotional bonding often serves as a safety net, providing emotional support during times of crisis.

Siblings as Socialization Agents

Siblings also act as significant agents of socialization. They contribute to the development of social skills, such as conflict resolution and empathy. Interactions with siblings can teach one to negotiate, compromise, and express emotions, skills that are crucial in navigating social scenarios in later life.

The Influence on Personal Development

The influence of siblings extends to personal development as well. Older siblings often serve as role models, influencing younger ones’ behavior, aspirations, and attitudes. Conversely, the responsibility of guiding younger siblings can foster maturity and accountability in the elder ones.

In conclusion, siblings play a multifaceted role in our lives. They are companions, confidants, and teachers, leaving indelible impacts on our personalities and life choices. The sibling relationship, marked by shared experiences, emotional bonds, and mutual growth, is indeed a significant aspect of human life.

500 Words Essay on Siblings


Siblings are an integral part of our lives, shaping our identities, influencing our behaviors, and playing a significant role in our personal development. They are our first friends, rivals, role models, and confidants, providing a complex and rich tapestry of interactions that significantly impact our social, emotional, and cognitive growth.

The Role of Siblings in Personal Development

Siblings serve as agents of socialization, contributing to the development of social skills and emotional intelligence. They provide a platform for learning about conflict resolution, cooperation, and negotiation. Siblings often engage in role-playing games, which are crucial in understanding social roles and norms. As such, siblings can be instrumental in shaping our social identities and interpersonal skills.

Sibling Rivalry and Its Implications

Sibling rivalry, often seen as a negative aspect of sibling relationships, can have constructive outcomes. It can foster resilience, as siblings learn to manage conflicts and stand up for themselves. The competition can also stimulate personal growth and ambition, leading to improved performance in various life domains. However, unchecked rivalry can lead to feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem, demonstrating the importance of parental intervention in managing sibling conflicts.

Siblings as Role Models

Older siblings often serve as role models for their younger counterparts, influencing their attitudes, behaviors, and aspirations. They can model positive behaviors, such as studying diligently or engaging in healthy habits, which younger siblings are likely to emulate. However, they can also model negative behaviors, highlighting the need for older siblings to be conscious of their influence.

The Impact of Birth Order

Birth order plays a significant role in shaping sibling dynamics and individual personalities. Firstborns, often burdened with more responsibilities, may develop leadership skills and a higher level of conscientiousness. Middle children, striving to differentiate themselves from their siblings, may become more creative and flexible. Youngest children, often the center of attention, may develop strong social skills but may also become dependent.

Siblings and Mental Health

Siblings can significantly impact one’s mental health. Strong sibling bonds can provide emotional support, reduce feelings of loneliness, and foster a sense of belonging, contributing to improved mental health. Conversely, negative sibling interactions, such as bullying or neglect, can lead to mental health issues like anxiety and depression.

In conclusion, siblings play a pivotal role in shaping our lives. They contribute to our personal development, provide emotional support, and influence our behaviors, attitudes, and aspirations. While sibling relationships can be complex and challenging, they are also a source of learning, growth, and companionship. Therefore, understanding the dynamics of sibling relationships is crucial in fostering healthy familial bonds and promoting personal and social development.

That’s it! I hope the essay helped you.

If you’re looking for more, here are essays on other interesting topics:

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Blog > Common App , Essay Advice > Should you write your college essay about siblings?

Should you write your college essay about siblings?

Admissions officer reviewed by Ben Bousquet, M.Ed Former Vanderbilt University

Written by Kylie Kistner, MA Former Willamette University Admissions

Key Takeaway

Siblings. Love them or hate them, they shape who you are, especially as a high school student.

If your relationship with your sibling(s) has significantly impacted your life, then you may be considering it as a topic for your college essay.

But how do you decide if writing about siblings is right for you? If it is, what’s the best way to write about them in a college essay?

Like a fight with your sibling, let’s get into it.

When should you write a college essay about your siblings?

Essays about siblings have a lot of potential as personal statements because your personality and values can implicitly shine through your relationship with your sibling(s).

They can also be downright adorable. In fact, one of the essays I remember most fondly from my time as an admissions officer was about the student’s close relationship with her sibling. I could tell that she was a really sweet, caring person from how she wrote about their good memories together.

But “adorable” isn’t always the message you want your admissions officers to take away from your essay.

Students commonly err by spending too much valuable essay real estate describing their sibling or relationship and not enough on themselves.

At the end of the day, your college essay needs to be a genuine reflection that tells the admissions committee who you are and why they should admit you.

If your own relationship with your sibling(s) does that for you, then go for it. If not, consider another topic that does.

Dos and don’ts when writing about siblings in your college essay

Once you’ve determined whether you should write about your siblings, you’re likely asking how you should write about them. Consider the following advice before you begin writing your essay.

Do write about a memory or tradition that significantly shaped who you are.

One way to write a successful essay about siblings is to hone in on a specific memory or tradition.

Focusing on a specific event gives your admissions officer insight into what your life has actually been like. It’ll also help keep you on track and prevent you from going on too many tangents.

You can set the scene through your language and extract broader meaning from those special moments with your sibling.

The key is that the memory or tradition has to have had a concrete and prominent effect on who you are today. Otherwise, why write about it?

You could write about how you and your sister are renowned tennis stars, how you hiked the Pacific Crest Trail with your three siblings, or how yearly Groundhog Day celebrations with your brother led to your interest in physics.

Choose a memory or tradition that molded your values or dramatically changed something about you.

Do explain how a specific part of you exists because of your sibling.

Another effective approach is to explain how your sibling directly influenced you.

Beware of focusing too much on your sibling. But sometimes the only way we can truly explain who we are is by discussing the events or people that affected us.

If your sibling’s personality, activities, or behavior made you into who you are today, then this approach may be for you.

Probably the most common version of this essay is about sibling competition. Students like to write about how they have always competed with or lived in the shadow of a sibling. This approach can sometimes work, but it’s a common topic that tends to be too negative, so you may consider alternatives.

Better methods might include: identifying an impactful activity you did together, reconciling different beliefs, or analyzing how your personality developed in response to theirs.

Whichever approach you choose, try to avoid the following common mistakes.

Don’t write a college essay about how great your siblings are.

Your college admissions essay isn’t Yelp. Don’t just write a glowing review of your sibling rather than a college essay about yourself. Your sibling should not be the main character of your essay. You should.

Your essay also shouldn’t provide a simple or generic explanation of why you love, hate, admire, etc. them.

Think about it: does an essay on those topics actually advocate for you to be admitted? Likely not. That’s why it’s important that your essay is, at its core, about you.

Don’t get lost in negative emotions.

While you may have been negatively impacted in some way by your sibling, your college essay isn’t a burn book, either. And its goal isn’t to get your sibling into (or out of) college.

Your college essay needs to serve you.

While it’s okay to explore the darker sides of life in a college essay, you don’t want to write something that ultimately leaves your admissions officer with a negative taste.

You want them to envision you as a happy, engaged college student. However you write about your relationship with your sibling should, in the end, help your admissions officer to make these positive connections.

Final Thoughts

College essays about siblings don’t always work in your favor. They can be too much about your sibling, too superficial, or filled with too much emotion that doesn’t serve a clear purpose.

So if you’re going to write about your siblings, make sure that you are doing so because it is the best way to tell the admissions committee about you.

If you’re ready start writing your college essay about siblings, check out our How to Write a College Essay guide.

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Relationships Articles & More

How your siblings can make you happier, sibling relationships affect us more than we probably realize—and we can work on improving them at any age..

When I was young, I didn’t get along well with my older sister. Though I looked up to her and longed for her positive attention, she didn’t seem to want me around, especially when her friends came over.

That’s weird to recall, as we are currently very close—a blessing, especially now that our parents are long gone. Our relationship has evolved over my lifetime into something very different than how it began, exerting a profound influence on both of us.

Is that unusual? Though parent/child relationships have received the lion’s share of attention in psychology research, researchers are starting to discover the many ways siblings affect us, too—for good and for bad. By paying attention to the quality of our sibling relationships, we might make our own discoveries about ourselves and our families.

Why sibling relationships matter

essay about having siblings

Experts say that around 80% of Americans have at least one sibling. For many, those are the longest-lasting relationships in their lives, extending well beyond the parent/child relationship.

“Parents don’t stay with you your whole life, your romantic partners come and go (and you don’t meet them until later in life), friends come and go, but siblings are always there through the lifespan,” says researcher Susan McHale of Penn State University, who studies sibling relationships.

Because of that long connection, she adds, siblings matter a lot for our personal growth and well-being.

“Throughout the lifespan, people who have close sibling relationships have better mental health, better psychological health, and better social relationships, generally speaking.”

Research confirms that if siblings have hostile or conflicted relationships when young, it can increase their risks of suffering anxiety, depressive symptoms, and even risky or antisocial behavior later in adolescence. On the other hand, positive sibling relationships can be protective, with warm relationships tied to better social relationships during the teen years. For Laurie Kramer of Northeastern University, the reason brothers and sisters matter so much is that those relationships are practice grounds for other relationships in life.

“We learn a lot by interacting with people who we spend a lot of time with, like how to share, care for another person, be considerate of another person’s needs,” she says. “But we also learn how to manage conflict and other social-emotional skills, which we can apply to other relationships.”

Whether our siblings are warm and kind or more combative and bullying, siblings are watching each other carefully, she adds, absorbing information “like sponges” on how to navigate the world.

“They’re picking up on all of this and creating their own identities, many times in response to how they perceive their siblings—or, if they don’t want to be the same, in reaction to that,” she says.

What strains the relationship?

The effects of sibling relationships depend on many factors. For example, when parents show preferential treatment for one sibling over another, or if children feel their parents are not treating them fairly, that generally increases sibling conflict and creates problems down the road.

“When children perceive that parents are being unjust, that’s when we see all the significant correlations with poor outcomes for children, like poor sibling relationships, poor parent/child relationships, and poor appraisals of their own self-worth,” says Kramer.

On the other hand, siblings can understand differential treatment, if there’s a good explanation for it—like a sibling has special needs or an older child has later curfews. Even when favoritism is toxic, says McHale, siblings can heal their relationship by acknowledging that it’s happening and how unfair it is.

“They can be protective of one another, provided that they both understand what’s going on, it’s recognized, and the favored child can be supportive of the less favored child to help make up for parents’ behavior,” she says.

Marital conflict in a family, too, can create less warmth and more conflict between siblings. That may have played a role in my relationship with my own sister, as my father’s alcoholism was a source of tension in my parents’ relationship.

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McHale says that gender can play a role; generally, sister/sister pairs or sister/brother pairs tend to be closer. That may be because girls and women are socialized to be more emotionally expressive, which is tied to less conflict. In adolescence, having a sibling of the opposite sex can be an advantage, if you’re heterosexual.

“We’ve found that kids with other-sex siblings are more romantically competent,” says McHale. “Unfortunately, we don’t have enough transgender or non-binary kids in our studies to be able to know how these things work in a broader gender context.”

Though gender and age differences affect sibling relationships, Kramer says that the factor most predictive of positive sibling relationships is if an older sibling learns how to play well with other children before their sibling is born.

“It really does come down to a set of social and emotional competencies,” she says. “Even young kids can learn a lot of these skills and apply them in their relationship with their siblings later on.”

How sibling relationships can shift as we age

It was hard for me to have conflicts with my sister when we were young. But, fortunately, our relationship improved once we both moved out of our parent’s house and had independent lives—a common occurrence, according to research. As conflicted siblings enter young adulthood, their relationships often become less intense but warmer than when they were younger.

As adults age even more, sibling relationships tend to become even less fraught , with midlife and older adults rating their sibling relationships as warmer, less conflicted, and less marred by parental favoritism than younger adults. Later in life, sister-sister siblings seem to have the closest relationships, spend the most time together, and support each other the most when compared to other sibling pairs.

But do these relationships matter much in later life? McHale suggests they do.

“Given your shared history, siblings understand you like no one else really can,” she says. “Family routines, family rituals, memories of your family, the ways things work in your family, the little jokes and private understandings—you just don’t have that with other people, not even a long-term spouse.”

Still, conflicts can arise between siblings in adulthood, says Kramer, especially as life gets complicated by work obligations, raising families, parent caregiving, or a parent’s death. If old familial wounds (like perceived favoritism) get revisited, it can lead to poorer relationships and increased depression.

Though research on siblings is expanding, much of it is correlational—meaning, it’s unclear whether poor sibling relationships are the cause of less well-being or vice versa. It’s possible, for example, that being depressed sours your sibling relationships rather than the reverse.

Yet warmer sibling relationships in older adults do seem to help stave off loneliness and depression, and siblings often help each other out when times are tough. This suggests they remain important and are worth nurturing.

How to improve sibling relationships at any age

It’s probably best to encourage warm sibling relationships from the get-go. But some parents may resist, thinking it’s normal for siblings to have conflicts and they will just work it out on their own. McHale disagrees with that approach.

“You hear that a lot—that it’s natural for siblings to fight. But it’s not natural,” she says. “In certain cultures, siblings have prescribed roles, where the elder brother or eldest sister is the caregiver, and fighting is not common, expected, or tolerated,” she says.

Kramer also thinks this attitude is a mistake and sets up siblings for failed relationships. 
“We don’t expect everything to be positive for sure, but neither should parents expect siblings to fight a lot,” she says. “That’s not really preparing kids to start a relationship with someone who’s going to be really important in their life.”

She and Kramer both believe that helping siblings to understand and manage their emotions, learn perspective taking, and find better ways to play together are key for developing positive sibling relationships. To that end, Kramer has developed an online program called More Fun with Sisters and Brothers , which helps parents coach their four- to eight-year-old children how to get along and get through conflicts without hurt feelings.

McHale also has a program for kids and their parents, Siblings Are Special , which does much the same thing. In randomized trials , including one with Latino families , she and her colleagues showed that the program led to significant improvement in relationships—as well as decreasing parental depression.

This is great news for parents. But what about adult siblings who find themselves at odds? It can be tough if there are unresolved conflicts from childhood, says Kramer, though acknowledging that can go a long way toward healing. Adult siblings will also need to practice many of the same skills that younger kids need to get along.

“Understanding why you’re upset, expressing emotion, understanding another person’s perspective, trying to come up with a compromise or a way to solve problems—these are just core social skills,” says McHale. “They are useful in fostering better relationships at any point in life.”

Are those efforts worth it? Kramer says yes. “I truly believe that we can work to improve relationships like these at any point because of siblings’ underlying connection. Siblings may not spend a lot of time together or may have disagreements. They don’t have to be best friends forever. But it’s good for them to like each other enough to help out in a pinch.”

About the Author

Jill Suttie

Jill Suttie

Jill Suttie, Psy.D. , is Greater Good ’s former book review editor and now serves as a staff writer and contributing editor for the magazine. She received her doctorate of psychology from the University of San Francisco in 1998 and was a psychologist in private practice before coming to Greater Good .

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Navigating Sibling Relationships

Reviewed by Psychology Today Staff

Sibling relationships are important. While friendships come and go, you’re stuck with your siblings. This relationship is oftentimes one of the longest relationships in a person’s life . You can rarely get away with being fake or phony when with siblings. You grow up in the same environment, share the same parents, and share common memories and similar experiences. You are who you are because of this shared history, which makes the relationship unique and invaluable.

On This Page

  • The Effect of Siblings on Development
  • The Truth About Birth Order
  • Sibling Rivalry Is Normal
  • The Favorite Child

Altare Shutterstock

The presence of siblings in the home affects a child's development, and it does not have to do with birth order. Having a sibling, for example, affects a child’s social skills, and a child with a sister or brother can often be more agreeable and sympathetic. Some research indicates that having a sibling in adulthood helps alleviate depression and anxiety. People are altogether happier when they have positive sibling relationships.

When a new baby arrives, don’t be shocked if a child regresses in behavior. This can include infantile conduct such as whining, kicking, screaming, hitting, even bedwetting. Jealousy is normal. Who wouldn’t feel that way? All your attention has landed on the new baby. Psychologists advise that you involve your older child as much as possible; let them help care for the baby. Of course, the help that they provide depends on their age and ability.

It is important to set aside time with the older child or children; every child needs such one-on-one time . Encourage older children to talk about their feelings and conflicts and assure them that they can have these feelings and still be a wonderful older sibling. If they express negative feelings, acknowledge that. Never deny or discount your child’s feelings.

Sibling relationships work best when each member appreciates the similarities between them, and they also respectfully note their differences. If they do experience discord, it is eventually resolved, as opposed to a wound that is maintained as part of the family narrative. Having a shared history gives siblings a connection that helps them navigate life, and it’s a bonus when they enjoy each other’s company. 

Yan Lev Shutterstock

Many theories have been proposed about the influence of siblings, and stereotypes are aplenty. The firstborn child is supposedly more conscientious and successful; the middle child is presumably excluded and embittered; the youngest is expected to be more social and persuasive. However, these characteristics don’t seem to hold up in research. Various studies have found that birth order has no bearing on a person’s predisposition.

Research that appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, looked at a number of studies and found no association of birth order on personality . The firstborn child is not necessarily the achiever, the middle born is not necessarily the peacemaker, and the last born is not necessarily the manipulator.

There's evidence that firstborns have slightly higher IQs than their younger siblings. Some researchers attribute this to parental age at the time of birth, while others contend that firstborns received more resources and attention from parents during important developmental stages. Other than this finding, there is no consistent evidence that firstborns, middle children, or last-borns reliably carry any particular traits whatsoever. 

One findings documented by researchers is that children born first tend to do better in school throughout childhood. This does not mean that they outshine their siblings in all realms throughout life. But because firstborn children get more attention from parents , they may be more motivated to fulfill parents’ expectations and therefore become more responsible. It is also possible that they may possess slightly higher IQs (see above), though most researchers think the IQ difference is so minimal that it does not translate into any real world gains. 

Parents do favor first- and last-born children over middle children . This happens in part because middle children will not likely be the only child living at home — at some point first-borns and last-borns will have their parents all to themselves. Overall, first-borns get the most privileges and last-borns receive the most affection from parents.

Younger siblings may want to find a place of their own within the family, and may therefore be less conforming to what their parents want. This may be why they appear more rebellious and open to novel experiences. The youngest child may also feel less capable and experienced, and may be more pampered by family members. As a result, the youngest may develop social skills that will get other people to do things for them, thus contributing to their image as charming and popular.

N Pelusi Used With Permission

Discord between siblings is normal. The notion of the cheery harmonious family that never fights is a misnomer. Conflict can come in many forms, 85 percent of siblings are verbally aggressive, 74 percent push and shove, and 40 percent are physically aggressive, which can include kicking, punching, and biting. Among adult siblings, studies show that roughly half speak to or see one another about once a month; the other half communicate less frequently or not at all, and they are more likely to engage in competition and rivalry. The culture idealizes the potential of loving sibling relationships—but the reality often falls short.

Before children are a year old, they exhibit a sophisticated social understanding. They are sensitive to differences in their parents’ affection, warmth, pride, attention, and discipline. They are attuned to the emotional exchanges going on around them. They are quick to pick up differential treatment by parents. They are attuned to whether the treatment they or their siblings get is fair or unfair.

Rivalry may start as early as age 3. At this age, children have a sophisticated grasp of how to use social rules. They can evaluate themselves in relation to their siblings and possess the developmental skills necessary to adapt to frustrating circumstances and relationships in the family. They may even have the drive to adapt and get along with a sibling whose goals and interests may be different from their own.

The so-called  replacement child is one who is conceived to take the place of a deceased sibling. Over time, the definition has been expanded to include many other scenarios. These include an older child whose role within the family may be shifted to “take over” for a deceased sibling because of parental pressure and, or, survivor guilt; a child who is made to feel responsible for a sibling who is handicapped, challenged, or incapacitated from birth or becomes so during the course of their life; and a child who is adopted to take the place of a biological child the parents were unable to have.

Child psychiatrist Richard Hoetzel, M.D., advises parents to learn the root cause of a disagreement or fight. What started the brawl? Is one child jealous of the other? Did someone feel left out or have her feelings hurt by another member of the family? Sometimes, children who are angry at a parent wind up taking it out on a sibling.

For most parents, sibling conflict is just an additional and unnecessary source of family stress. Yet, fighting is not a sign of siblings not getting along. It is how they get along, using conflict to test their power, establish differences, and vent emotions. It's how they manage their love-hate relationship, each side of which is compelling in its own way. In healthy sibling rivalries, children can be both good companions and good opponents with each other. In unhealthy rivalries, there is only enmity. 

Patrick Foto Shutterstock

A large proportion of parents consistently favor one child over another. This favoritism can manifest in different ways: more time spent with one child, more affection given, more privileges, less discipline, or, the worst scenarios, less abuse. Some favoritism is fair, the arrival of a newborn or caring for an ill or disabled sibling. Some favoritism is unfair, in patriarchal cultures, parents simply favor boys over girls, for example. Favoritism is a common reason for sibling resentment. A child who feels unfavored will direct his anger toward his sibling, not to the parent showing favoritism .

A child's personality and behavior can affect how parents treat them. Parents behave more affectionately toward children who are pleasant and affectionate, and they direct more discipline toward children who act out or engage in unruly or deviant behavior. Because girls tend to be warmer and less aggressive than boys, parents are more likely to  favor daughters over sons, though this is not the case in patriarchal cultures.

Favoritism is also more likely when parents are under stress ; this can include everything from marital problems to financial difficulties. Parents may be unable to inhibit their true feelings or monitor their behavior to be sure they are being fair to all children. Some researchers argue that when emotional or material resources are limited, parents will favor children who have the most potential to thrive and reproduce.

Children who are consistently held in disfavor are more depressed, more aggressive, suffer lower self-esteem, and don’t necessarily reach their academic potential. Favored children also suffer, the unfair treatment poisons everyone. The unfavored sibling ends up resenting the favored one, sometimes well into adulthood.

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How Sibling Bonds Shape Our Lives

essay about having siblings

Whether besties or rivals, a growing body of research shows that sibling bonds can have a powerful effect on your physical and mental health. Catherine Falls Commercial/Getty Images hide caption

Whether besties or rivals, a growing body of research shows that sibling bonds can have a powerful effect on your physical and mental health.

If you ever wondered what happened to the fictional Brady Bunch siblings once they grew up, science may have the answers.

A growing body of research shows that the bond between siblings can have a powerful effect on your physical and mental health. Good relationships with siblings can help defend against mental health concerns as life progresses.

NPR's science correspondent, Michaeleen Doucleff, looks at some of the emerging research on the impact of sibling relationships.

For more stories from NPR's Science of Siblings series, visit npr.org/siblings .

For sponsor-free episodes of Consider This, sign up for Consider This+ via Apple Podcasts or at plus.npr.org .

Email us at [email protected] .

This episode was produced by Jonaki Mehta. It was edited by Jeanette Woods, Amina Khan and Rebecca Davis. It was engineered by Robert Rodriguez. Our executive producer is Sami Yenigun.

Brother, Sister, Rival, Friend: The Longstanding Effects Of Sibling Relationships

Research is bringing an unexpected truth to light: Siblings may have as powerful an effect on one another's lives as parents do.

A sister measures her brother's height against a wall.

Growing up with siblings profoundly alters a kid’s childhood — and everything that follows. Brothers and sisters are, more often than not, a child’s first playmate and an adult’s oldest friend. Brotherhood and sisterhood can teach social skills and help us learn to resolve conflicts . At the same time, unhealthy sibling relationships can cause life-long social dysfunction.

Depending on whether you have an older brother or younger sister, your sibling relationship may yield different psychological impacts. But new research that attempts to sort through so-called Sibling Effects keeps falling back on one key point: The effects of sibling relationships in childhood echo through the rest of our lives.

How Sibling Effects Shape Relationships

“Sibling relationships influence children’s adjustment and development about as much as parenting does,” says Mark Feinberg, Ph.D. , a professor of human development at Pennsylvania State University.

Sibling Effects impact a surprisingly broad spectrum of the human psyche. Studies (some more rigorous than others) have identified a handful of consistently positive and negative effects of having a brother or sister. Some have even ventured into the fraught science of predicting sibling relationship quality. It’s important work because the key to parenting siblings effectively is understanding what makes this unique relationship tick. “Cognitively, emotionally, socially — there are just a lot of influences that siblings have on one another,” says Laurie Kramer, Ph.D. , a clinical psychologist at Northeastern University.

What the Studies Say — And Don’t Say — About Sibling Relationships

There is ample research out there on how siblings affect one another. Studies have shown that younger siblings teach empathy to their older brothers and sisters. And siblings who report feeling close to one another tend to either both graduate college or both drop out, as a unit. We even know that the best sibling arrangement — tied to the highest educational and economic attainment for all children in the family — is XB-S , code for when the eldest child of any gender (X) is born two years before a brother (B), who is born five or more years before a sister (S). Less optimistic research has linked sibling bullying to depression, anxiety, and self-harm .

Even among studies that highlight significant sibling effects, however, there are serious limitations in what we can confidently conclude. A handful of studies have attempted to demonstrate that single children are developmentally stunted. But researchers agree that most of these disadvantages are short-lived.

“By the time we reach adulthood, we have gained enough other formative experiences in the world that any actual differences between siblings and singletons are pretty negligible — overridden by differences in temperament, personality, and personal preference,” says Susan Doughty, Ph.D. , a psychologist at Anderson University. “A lack of siblings may still shape your life in some ways, but it is only one influence among many.”

So how do we square the idea that having siblings profoundly affects people with the idea that the effects of having siblings are often negligible from a statistical perspective? To put it simply, very volatile relationships have effects that are far from negligible. And one quirk of the sibling bond is that it leads to a disproportionate amount of strong positive and strong negative relationships.

“Moderate to high levels of both positive and negative sibling relationship dimensions are typical,” says Sarah Killoren, Ph.D. , who studies sibling relationship dynamics at the University of Missouri. “Most differences in adjustment are seen between siblings who have very positive relationships — high intimacy, low negativity — versus those who have very negative relationships — low intimacy and high levels of conflict.”

So although it’s true that sibling relationships are only one influence among many, they still can have profound, lingering effects. In other words, there are few influences more meaningful than a brother or sister.

The Positive Effects of Sibling Relationships

“Siblings are often a child’s first play partners,” says Nina Howe, Ph.D. , research chair of early childhood development at Concordia University. “I think of the sibling relationship as a natural laboratory for learning how to get along with people.”

Very young children with older siblings tend to develop a theory of mind (or, the ability to put themselves in someone else’s shoes) a bit earlier than their peers. “If you have siblings yourself, it makes sense,” Doughty says. “No one knows how to push your buttons better — or earlier — than a sibling… That’s a skill that requires a well-developed theory of mind.”

Because siblings are often our first peers, sibling relationships tend to follow fairly predictable patterns. Younger siblings are fascinated by older siblings and eager to learn their customs and games; older siblings test out leadership skills and conflict resolution on their younger brothers and sisters. These interactions are largely positive: Older sibling-younger sibling power dynamics melt away over time, Killoren says, when younger siblings hit late adolescence. After that, everyone is equal, which leads to better conflict resolution.

“Whatever jealousy or anger that siblings may feel toward one another,” Howe says, “there’s pretty good evidence that it doesn’t last very long.”

Of course, the positive effects of sibling relationships change over time. In toddlerhood, siblings help each other “in language development, social interactions, how to stand up for yourself, learning to share,” Howe says. As children mature, siblings take on more practical responsibilities, helping one another with schoolwork or with navigating friendships outside the family. These effects can also vary with gender. Boys with older sisters tend to endorse more egalitarian gender roles, perhaps reflecting their experience “growing up with a female peer who was always older, bigger, faster, stronger, and smarter than you,” Doughty says.

Siblings can also serve as sources of comfort in adulthood. “Very often, in older age, as people near the end of their lives, they reconnect with their siblings,” Howe says. “This is the person that you have known longest in your life, and you have a shared history, remembering, what was mom like? What was dad like?”

The Negative Effects of Sibling Relationships

If your relationship with your sibling isn’t all sunshine and roses, you aren’t alone. Good sibling relationships are the norm, but bad sibling relationships happen. And they can have strong negative effects.

“Difficult, conflictual, and even violent sibling relationships interfere with development,” Feinberg says. “Children learn coercion, develop peer problems, and become exposed to negative influences with a range of outcomes: depression, substance abuse, low educational attainment.” Feinberg cites one study that found that sibling relationships are among the most critical factors influencing adult well-being — and disturbing evidence that 10% of family homicides (and 1.5% of all murders) are attributable to sibling conflict .

Indeed, sibling relationships are also the most violent relationships between family members. And although a lot of that is normal sibling roughhousing, therapists and scientists agree that parents should treat sibling aggression as potentially harmful, especially when there’s a significant age difference. Sibling bullying is a real problem, with some studies suggesting that up to 80% of children report being bullied by their brothers or sisters. In extreme cases, sibling bullying can lead to depression and self-harm — or teach victims to bully others, in turn.

One of the best ways to discern normal from problematic sibling conflict is to watch its trajectory. In most cases, sibling conflict “tends to increase over childhood to early adolescence, and then decrease around mid-adolescence,” Feinberg says. If it persists, that’s a red flag.

What compounds sibling relationship problems? For one, parental favoritism (perceived or actual). “When parents treat kids differently, in ways that kids feel are unfair, that’s associated with worse sibling relationships and lower self-concept,” Kramer says. “It’s not just the act of treating them differently, but doing it in ways that kids feel are unjustified and unfair.”

Predicting Sibling Relationships’ Health

Given the benefits of a good sibling relationship and the dangers of a bad one, trying to predict how outside factors might influence the interactions between brothers and sisters is a priority. One of the major factors at play is the age difference. “If siblings are born more than about six or seven years apart, in a lot of ways they are essentially two only-children,” Doughty says. “They are in such different developmental places that they don’t relate to one another the same way.”

There is limited evidence that adversity helps bring siblings closer to one another. “After the period of divorce , which is a terribly stressful time for everybody, siblings in some cases actually become closer,” Howe says, “because they join together as a team, particularly if they’re going back and forth between parents.” Poverty may have similar cohesive effects. “There is some literature suggesting that siblings help each other with schoolwork when the parents themselves are not well-educated, or cannot help because they don’t speak the language…It doesn’t take a lot to imagine that, in cases of great adversity, siblings may pull together.”

Kramer is fascinated by the science of predicting sibling relationship quality. She has dedicated much of her career to identifying predictors and helping parents implement positive changes. One of her long-term, longitudinal studies that followed children from birth through high school found that although gender and age gaps made some difference, the single greatest predictor of positive sibling relationships were positive social interactions with unrelated peers.

“The quality of a relationship that a preschooler has with a friend is a strong predictor of what they’ll do with their siblings,” Kramer says. “If they coordinate their behavior, play games, and don’t freak out when there’s a conflict, those are really positive predictors of sibling relationships.” The trend held through high school. “The qualities of friendship turned out to be even more important predictors than the relationship kids had with their fathers and mothers.”

In a word, the best way to figure out whether a child or teen will make a good sibling is to look at how they treat their peers. Getting along with others is a transferable skill.

Parents Can Help Siblings Be Good to Each Other

Since reaching these conclusions, Kramer has incorporated what she learned into an online program that teaches parents and children how to optimize sibling relationships. “The most important thing is teaching kids how to look at a situation not only in terms of what they want, but also from a sibling’s point of view, to appreciate that there are different perspectives that are equally valid.” Going to school for parenting is not always necessary, however, and there are a few basic changes parents can make that will help foster the healthiest sibling relationships.

First, set a good example. “Demonstrate how to resolve conflicts peacefully, and speak positively about others in the family,” Feinberg says. Set high expectations — do not make the mistake of considering sibling bullying inevitable, and stress that you expect your children to maintain close friendships with one another throughout their lives. “Expect that siblings are going to treat each other well,” Feinberg says. “Make it clear that verbal and physical aggression is unacceptable.”

Crucially, try to coach siblings to resolve their problems independently, amongst themselves. “Help children define the problems that they are having with each other, think about solutions together, and agree upon a way to resolve the issue,” Feinberg says. Because that’s what the sibling relationship is for, after all. It’s a learning laboratory — and the lifelong journey toward understanding others and interacting positively with one’s peers often starts right at home.

This article was originally published on Jan. 23, 2019

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What Is Your Relationship With Your Siblings Like?

essay about having siblings

By Natalie Proulx

  • May 30, 2018

Do you have siblings? If so, what is your relationship with them like?

In “ How to Maintain Sibling Relationships ,” Anna Goldfarb writes:

Siblings are often the only people with whom we have lifelong relationships. For many people that means a built-in best friend for life. But deep, lifetime connections like that can be … messy at times, even in the strongest of bonds. Navigating those relationships is difficult in a different way than navigating your friendship with, say, your best friend from college. Ninety percent of people in Western families grow up in households with at least one biological, half, step or adoptive sibling, but for many of those people an agreeable relationship between siblings isn’t always a given; it takes work. In a study of 6,630 Dutch adults, European researchers found that people who experienced serious negative life events in the past — divorce, addiction issues, run-ins with the law or financial problems — often had less supportive and more strained sibling ties. The quality of sibling relationships is one of the most important predictors of mental health in old age, according to The American Journal of Psychiatry. Research shows that people who are emotionally close to their siblings have higher life satisfaction and lower rates of depression later in life. In times of stress or trauma, siblings can provide essential emotional and monetary support. If your sibling relationships need a little rehab, or you’ve long fallen out of touch, there’s still hope.

Among other things, Ms. Goldfarb suggests sharing your goals:

Like friendships and romantic relationships, sibling relationships require ongoing check-ins to make sure everyone’s needs are being met. An easy topic to bond over is where you want to go in life, both in terms of this specific relationship and your overall goals.

Avoiding contentious issues:

When talking with your sibling, don’t bring up anything that could create strife, like politics, religion or even rehashing traumatic childhood memories. Accept that some topics will be off-limits, Ms. Jackson said.

And verbalizing your appreciation:

Just as you might regularly tell your spouse or partner you love them, siblings need those reassurances too. … Don’t be afraid of calling more, texting more or organizing more get-togethers.

Students: Read the entire article, then tell us:

— What do you and your siblings bond over? Do you share your goals, ambitions and dreams for the future? Do you have similar interests, hobbies and beliefs? If so, what are they?

— Is there any animosity between you and your siblings? Do you ever feel jealousy or harbor resentment for things that have happened in the past? What do they do that gets on your nerves? What do you argue about? If so, how do you address these issues and feelings?

— Would you say that you and your siblings are friends? Do you spend time together, support each other and share secrets? Why or why not?

— What is the ideal relationship you would like to have with your siblings? Do you have that? If not, what tips from this article might you use to help you make it happen?

Students 13 and older are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public.

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The Importance of Having Siblings

Updated 25 October 2023

Downloads 50

Category Family

While growing up, I never emulated anyone and never thought about being a different person. However, I had favorite sports figures and TV personalities and enjoyed how movie heroes acted in various plays. There were times when I felt like I was missing out on my age mates company. However, things changed when I got siblings as they made me get out of my comfort zone. I realized that apart from watching movies and sports, there was another exciting part of life; that which involved real people and family.

How My Siblings Have Shaped My Life

Having a family is crucial in everyone’s life but having siblings makes family life even more thrilling. At first, they might be a handful especially when one has grown up alone enjoying everything in the house and having both parents by their side. However, the arrival of siblings changes things and the parents try to balance between offering both material and non-material support to the children. Such an approach would make me feel like the parents were no longer noticing my presence as much as they used to do before. The thoughts would make me throw tantrums and become stubborn at times because I needed full attention. However, I later learned that they cared for all of us equally. Indeed, the relationship with my siblings has influenced everything including the attitudes towards love and responsibility, being resilient and always working hard to achieve my dreams and goals.

During the initial years before the arrival of the younger children, I received my parents’ undivided attention and was always their priority. However, it does not mean that the arrival of my siblings changed anything. Rather, the parents’ responsibilities had increased, and it was vital that I chip in as I grew older. For instance, I would help watching over the young ones while my mother went for short errands like visiting the grocery and the convenience stores. With these new duties, I learned to be a responsible person in all areas of my life. It was important to be a good role model both at home and in my studies. As such, I ensured that everything was in order and the execution of duties was perfect. For instance, I completed all my homework on time, helped around the house with chores during the weekends and also ensured that the young ones were comfortable in the home.

I also followed the right diet to ensure that both my siblings and I led healthy lifestyles. One thing I have come to realize is that children emulate whatever their older siblings do, hence the need to be careful and vigilant to avoid setting bad examples to them as they grow. Despite the belief that the birth order affects personality, I always ensured that we all shaped each other’s character by engaging in different activities together and getting the right advice whenever necessary. Since I was mostly responsible for anything that went wrong around the house, I always had to make better decisions when I was with my siblings. However, we still had fun despite everything. This approach has further enabled me to develop outstanding leadership skills and learn the art of balancing my personal and professional life.

Having siblings has also taught me resilience.bOur relationship was full of warmth and concern for each other and with their company, I was able to find my purpose in life. I learned to become involved in other children’s welfare, cultivate spirituality and engage in meaningful activities. I also built positive beliefs in my abilities. Initially, I could not imagine I could guide people towards the right path and offer sound advice. However, I became more confident in my abilities including how to respond and deal with crisis. The ability to handle my siblings also increased my self-esteem because I learned that I could be a great mentor, friend or a partner and offer assistance to people in need. As such, I never miss an opportunity to engage in charity work and help the needy when a chance arises. Seeing other people happy is fulfilling and makes me feel that I have positively impacted both an individual and the society as a whole.

Having my siblings as my best friends also increased my social network because I can confide in them without fear. Even without friends, I have the assurance that I can always count on them whenever a need arises. As such, they offer emotional support and protect me during times of crisis. Flexibility is a crucial part of resilience and learning how to be adaptable and becoming equipped to respond well to different life situations. As such, even abrupt changes do not come as a surprise to my siblings or me because I taught them to be flexible in life.

My siblings further taught me how to be optimistic even in difficult situations. I have learned that positive thinking is not about ignoring a problem and focusing on positive outcomes. Instead, it entails understanding that setbacks are not permanent and I have the skills and abilities to handle the difficult situations. During stressful situations, it can be easy to neglect personal needs and fell drained. For instance, my siblings would in some occasions experience a loss of appetite, ignore exercising and lack sleep often. However, I would help in boosting their moods by encouraging them to focus on building their self-nurturance skills even when they feel troubled. I also used to encourage them to make time for the activities they enjoyed and always prioritize their needs.

The good and bad times we shared have influenced my current life. Without them, I would never have learned to be as empathetic and nurturing as I am today. Our relationship was a unique and powerful context for development because we had robust positive features like intimacy and warmth, as well as some negative qualities like intense and potentially harmful conflicts. However, we overcame the rivalry as we grew up and became the best of friends.

The responsibilities I had while growing up also sharpened my problem-solving skills. Since I learned to come up with solutions to various issues, it also became more comfortable for me to cope with challenges. Whenever I face a problem, I make a quick list of the potential ways of solving the problem and make comparisons to identify the best one. Experimenting with different strategies and focusing on developing logical ways to work through daily issues makes me better prepared to cope when serious challenges occur.

Family is crucial in influencing a person’s current and future situations. However, it becomes more interesting when siblings relate with each other and participate in different activities together. I learned this aspect while growing up with my siblings who taught me how to handle and see life from different perspectives. Their company also enabled me to develop essential virtues which I still uphold. Therefore, it is evident that we all undergo events which shape our lives.

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Essay Samples on Sibling

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Best topics on Sibling

1. Advantages and Disadvantages of Having Siblings: Navigating the Bonds of Family

2. Ideal Vacation: Celebrating Brotherhood with My Brothers

3. The Importance of Role Models in the Form of Siblings

4. The Benefits Of Being In A Familial Sisterhood

5. My Sister As A Person I Look Up To

6. Childhood Memories of My Brother Going Missing

7. The Sibling Relationship of Mycroft and Sherlock in The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter

8. Life As a Shadow: Being a Younger Sibling

9. Analysis of My Sister’s Keepers: A Saviour Sibling

10. How Social Skills Are Influenced by Siblings

11. Sibling Rivalry: Known and Unknown Facts with Parent Involvement

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Sibling Relationships and Influences in Childhood and Adolescence

Kimberly a. updegraff.

* School of Social and Family Dynamics, 951 S. Cady Mall, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 85287.

Shawn D. Whiteman

** Department of Human Development and Family Studies, Hanley Hall, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN 47907.

The authors review the literature on sibling relationships in childhood and adolescence, starting by tracing themes from foundational research and theory and then focusing on empirical research during the past 2 decades. This literature documents siblings’ centrality in family life, sources of variation in sibling relationship qualities, and the significance of siblings for child and adolescent development and adjustment. Sibling influences emerge not only in the context of siblings’ frequent and often emotionally intense interactions but also by virtue of siblings’ role in larger family system dynamics. Although siblings are building blocks of family structure and key players in family dynamics, their role has been relatively neglected by family scholars and by those who study close relationships. Incorporating study of siblings into family research provides novel insights into the operation of families as social and socializing systems.

Siblings are a fixture in the family lives of children and adolescents, and a body of work documents their role in one another’s everyday experiences as companions, confidantes, combatants, and as the focus of social comparisons. Research on sibling relationships has been aimed at identifying factors that explain these and other social dynamics between siblings and at examining the role of sibling experiences in youth development and well-being. From this work we know that sibling relationships are shaped by factors ranging from child characteristics to cultural norms and values. We also know that siblings can have direct effects on one another’s development when they serve as social partners, role models, and foils and that siblings can influence one another indirectly by virtue of their impact on larger family dynamics—such as by serving as building blocks of the family structure, holding a favored family niche, or diluting family resources ( McHale, Kim, & Whiteman, 2006 ).

Recent national data document the ubiquity of siblings in U.S. families, even in the face of declines in family size. Data from the Integrated Public Use Microdata Series’ harmonization of the 2010 Current Population Survey ( King et al., 2010 ) indicate that 82.22% of youth age 18 and under lived with at least one sibling—a higher percentage than were living in a household with a father figure (78.19%). In 2010, the number of siblings in the household for youth age 18 and under averaged 1.51, with almost 40% of youth living with one sibling, about 25% living with two siblings, and over 15% living with 3 or more siblings. Given changing U.S. demographics, it is important to note that these data also revealed variability in sibship size across racial/ethnic groups, with Asian ( M = 1.41) and White ( M = 1.49) youth having fewer siblings and African American ( M = 1.64) and Hispanic youth ( M = 1.68) growing up with more siblings. Divorce, remarriage, and multipartner fertility patterns also have had implications: In 2010, more than 10% of households with children included step- or adoptive siblings.

In the face of their ubiquity and potential for influence, however, sibling relationships have been relatively neglected by researchers studying close relationships and by family scholars, in particular. Our search of the 1990 – 2011 psychological and sociological abstracts for “sibling and relation or relationships,” for example, yielded 741 citations. In contrast, the counts were 33,990 citations for “parent or parenting,” 8,685 citations for “marriage or marital relationship or marital relation,” and 5,059 citations for “peer relations or peer relationships or friend-ships.” Drilling down to the abstracts of the major family journals between 1990 and 2011 and focusing on the neonatal through adolescent periods yielded citation counts of 41 articles in the Journal of Marriage and Family , 18 articles in Family Relations , 21 articles in the Journal of Family Issues and 131 articles in the Journal of Family Psychology with the term sibling in the abstract; only about one third of these articles, however, focused directly on sibling relationships.

Given their relative neglect, the overarching goal of this article is to stimulate interest of family scholars in sibling relationships by portraying the centrality of siblings in family life and sibling influences on child and adolescent development. In so doing we also aim to illuminate the ways in which the study of sibling relationships and dynamics can inform our understanding of how families operate as social and socializing systems. Our review is divided into four sections. First, to introduce family scholars who are new to the field to research on siblings, we begin with an overview of the theoretical traditions and early studies that provide the foundation for contemporary research. This early work was aimed primarily at two topics: (a) factors that shape sibling relationship qualities and (b) sibling influences on one another’s development. In the second and third sections of this article, we review research conducted between 1990 and 201l on these two topics. In the fourth and final section, we take stock of what we have learned to date about this primary family relationship and make recommendations for future research directions.

Foundations of Research on Sibling Relationships and Influences

From its inception, research on siblings has been grounded in a range of disciplinary perspectives. Below we consider five traditions that continue to shape the field. We note, however, that a challenge for sibling relationship researchers is to better integrate concepts and methods toward an interdisciplinary approach to studying sibling relationships.

Sociological and Social Psychological Approaches

One early line of research focused on the significance of sibling structure variables. From this perspective, siblings’ position in the family gives rise to social psychological processes, with lifelong implications for individual development and adjustment ( Irish, 1964 ). Interest in birth order and its impact on achievement emerged in the late 1800s, with Galton’s (1874) analysis of British scientists. Galton concluded that the overrepresentation of firstborns in science leadership was due to the rights and responsibilities conferred on them by laws and mores around primogeniture. As we describe later in this article, scholars from other traditions, such as Adler’s ethological/analytic perspective, also highlighted birth order effects but targeted social and psychological processes, such as firstborns’ dethronement and parents’ tendency to overindulge younger siblings, to explain birth order differences in siblings’ personality and psychological adjustment ( Ansbacher & Ansbacher, 1956 ).

Beginning in the 1950s, sibling gender constellation became a focus ( Brim, 1958 ; Koch, 1960 ). Findings from a study of 350 five- and six-year-olds, published in a series of monographs and articles, anticipated tenets of social learning theory in demonstrating that higher status, older siblings tended to be more influential models and that model similarity (i.e., same-gender siblings) enhanced a model’s impact. An important insight from this work was that sibling gender constellation effects emerged not only via parent-driven dynamics such as gendered differential treatment but also from siblings’ direct experiences with one another.

A third structure factor was sibship size, in particular its role in achievement. One early perspective that remains influential held that siblings dilute resources available to individual children and thereby limit their achievement ( Blake, 1981 ), and population studies ( Blau & Duncan, 1965 ) found evidence of sibship size effects on education and occupation attainment. A second, confluence model ( Zajonc & Markus, 1975 ) held that families’ overall intellectual climate is a function of its age distribution as determined by number of children, age spacing between them, and children’s corresponding opportunities to teach and be taught by siblings.

A limitation of work on structural variables that persists today, however, is that the social and psychological processes purported to account for sibling constellation effects—such as rivalry, differential treatment, or resource allocation—were inferred on the basis of patterns of sibling outcomes instead of being measured directly. In a series of articles, Furman and Buhrmester (e.g., Buhrmester & Furman, 1990 ) examined links between structure characteristics and relationship dynamics. Their work showed that structure variables do not fully account for relationship processes and underscored that influence processes should be directly measured.

Psychoanalytic and Ethological Groundings of a Developmental Perspective

A second thread in contemporary research on siblings originated within the psychoanalytic and ethological traditions in the first half of the 20th century. Adler’s theory of individual psychology placed sibling dynamics at the center of family life and personality development ( Ansbacher & Ansbacher, 1956 ). Adler argued that social comparisons and power dynamics in families, in particular sibling rivalry for family resources, were fundamental influences on personality development. He suggested that, as a means of reducing competition, siblings differentiate or de-identify, developing different qualities and choosing different niches. A handful of early studies found evidence consistent with Adler’s ideas ( Grotevant, 1978 ; Schachter, Shore, Feldman-Rotman, Marquis, & Campbell, 1976 ) and, as we later discuss, recent research on parents’ differential treatment of siblings also provides support for Adler’s hypotheses about the significance of sibling dynamics in psychological adjustment.

More generally, two themes from psychoanalytic and ethological perspectives that influenced early sibling research were (a) the significance of early experience and (b) the adaptive functions of social behavior. The ethological tradition also was influential in its emphasis on naturalistic observation methods, an approach adopted by developmental scholars who examined the role of siblings in early socioemotional development ( Abramovitch, Corter, & Lando, 1979 ; Bryant & Crockenberg, 1980 ; Dunn & Kendrick, 1980 ). On the basis of this early work, Dunn (1983) concluded that sibling relationships are unique in that they encompass both the complementary interactions typical of adult – child relationships and the reciprocal and mutually influential interactions of peers. Further, the frequent and often emotionally charged social exchanges of siblings serve as an impetus for socioemotional development as young children work to establish their status in the sibling relationship and their niche in the family. Finally, Dunn emphasized moving beyond structural variables to focus on influence processes and stressed the significance of studying sibling relationships within the larger family system. Thirty years after Dunn’s article was published, her ideas remain integral to research on sibling relationships and influences.

Learning and Social Learning Perspectives

Learning theories, targeting reinforcement and observational learning, were a third early influence, and they continue to shape the literature on sibling influences. Early findings were consistent with the idea that siblings serve as role models ( Brim, 1958 ). Also consistent were findings from observational studies documenting asymmetrical sibling influences, with toddlers imitating their (higher status) older siblings more than the reverse ( Abramovitch et al., 1979 ).

Patterson (1984) broke new ground in his observational research on the sibling relationships of children with conduct disorders. Through analyses of observed reinforcement dynamics, Patterson concluded that sibling relationships can serve as a training ground for aggression when siblings become involved in coercive cycles wherein escalation of negative behavior is rewarded by one partner giving in to the other’s demands. A key contribution of this work was that sibling influence processes were directly observed and measured, and Patterson’s insights continue to motivate contemporary research on siblings’ influences on risky behavior.

Contributions From Behavior Genetics

Studies in this tradition generally treat data on siblings as a methodological tool, comparing siblings of differing degrees of biological relatedness to draw inferences about the relative roles of genes and environment in development. Such findings are not relevant to understanding sibling relationships, but behavior geneticists’ insights into the significance of the nonshared environment pointed to the potential significance of sibling influences in such forms as siblings’ position in the family structure, parents’ differential treatment of siblings, and asymmetrical sibling interactions ( Rowe & Plomin, 1981 ). Although the nonshared environment is not directly measured in most behavioral genetics research, Plomin and Daniels’s (1987) seminal article “Why are children in the same family so different from one another?” motivated new attention to these differentiation processes by sibling researchers.

Cross-Cultural Perspectives

Using ethnographic methods, cultural anthropologists have long highlighted the ubiquity of siblings in the lives of children and families ( Whiting & Whiting, 1975 ). Research in this tradition aims to identify cross-cultural universals in social patterns and uncover the ecological bases of cultural differences. Summarizing results from work beginning in the 1950s, Weisner (1989) noted four cultural universals in sibling relationships: (a) Structural characteristics provide a metric for comparison, and although cultures differ in the emphasis they place on them, these characteristics have implications ranging from their effects on family dynamics to their effects on cultural beliefs; (b) siblings are common companions growing up and share a family history; (c) in childhood, siblings are ubiquitous across all primate species; and (d) cultures imbue sibling roles and relationships with meaning because “siblings always matter” (p. 14).

Cross-cultural research emphasized the care-giving responsibilities of older siblings and the hierarchical structure of sibling roles in non-Western societies as well as cultural differences in dynamics such as rivalry and competition ( Nuckolls, 1993 ; Weisner, 1989 ). Weisner pointed to subsistence demands in the development of sibling dynamics, including sibling residence and inheritance patterns. In daily life, social institutions structure siblings’ roles and relationships, which in turn shape and reinforce cultural beliefs about siblings. Weisner also contrasted kin-focused societies, wherein sibling relationships serve as the “moral ideals,” with North American families, whose social institutions fail to promote sibling bonds and responsibilities after adolescence. Nonetheless, even in the Western world, elements of the moral ideal of sisterhood (“Sisterhood is powerful”) and brotherhood (“He’s not heavy; he’s my brother”) persist.

Weisner (1989) argued that cross-cultural analyses of sibling relationships provide insights into what is universal in human experience and into ecological factors that promote differences in sibling bonds across place and time. This tradition provides a foundation for emerging research on siblings from racial/ethnic minority groups within the United States that is beginning to examine cultural values and practices that explain variability in sibling dynamics and influences.

Sources of Variation in Sibling Relationships

We turn now to research on factors that shape sibling relationship dynamics, ranging from characteristics of siblings themselves to the family and cultural contexts within which they are embedded. We also consider recent intervention research aimed at designing and evaluating programs that promote positive sibling relationships. As will be evident, much of this work is built on the theoretical perspectives we have just reviewed.

Role of Child Characteristics in Sibling Relationships

Early research on structural factors inferred social processes from status characteristics such as gender constellation and age spacing, and an important advance is research that goes beyond status characteristics to directly measure siblings’ personal qualities in an effort to understand their impact on sibling ties. One line of work examined siblings’ temperament ( Stoneman & Brody, 1993 ) showing that difficult temperaments, in particular, were linked to sibling relationship difficulties. Later studies tested temperament as a moderator of links between family conditions and sibling relationships, suggesting that siblings’ characteristics could exacerbate the effects of stressful family circumstances on sibling ties ( Stoneman, Brody, Churchill & Winn, 1999 ). The latter work also highlighted the role of contextual characteristics in sibling relationships, a topic to which we return later.

Child effects also were evident in research on families with children who had a disability or a chronic illness. Research comparing sibling relationships and child adjustment in families with versus without a child with a disability or chronic illness revealed two patterns. First, dyads with a disabled or ill sibling consistently displayed more warmth and positive affect than typical-only dyads ( Stoneman, 2001 ). Second, typical siblings of disabled or ill children had a slightly elevated risk of adjustment problems ( Sharpe & Rossiter, 2002 ). This research tended to be grounded in a deficit model that assumed siblings of atypical youth were at risk ( Levy-Wasser & Katz, 2004 ). Few studies included indices of positive adjustment, but the ones that did showed that there also can be benefits of growing up with a sibling with a disability or illness ( Mandelco, Olsen, Dyches, & Marshall, 2003 ; McHale & Harris, 1992 ). This work implies that an atypical sibling may make for greater variability in children’s adjustment and that the conditions under which children adjust in more positive or negative ways are an important target for research.

Such insights come from research designs that move beyond group comparisons of adjustment outcomes to examine the processes—such as coping styles or family supports—that explain within-group variability among children with atypical siblings ( McHale & Harris, 1992 ). Longitudinal research also is needed. Knott, Lewis, and Williams (2007) provided a rare picture of the development of sibling relationships of children with autism and Down syndrome. Such studies can illuminate how these relationships evolve as the typical sibling takes on a more parentlike role, an important issue given parents’ concerns about who will care for the child with a disability when they themselves no longer can (McHale & Harris).

Family Influences on Sibling Relationships

Studying how sibling relationships are embedded within families advances our understanding of both sibling relationships and families as social systems. Although not traditionally applied to study of sibling relationships, a family systems perspective directs attention to the interdependence among the subsystems that comprise families ( Minuchin, 1985 ) and provides an overarching framework for examining how marital and parental subsystems are linked to sibling relationships. With respect to the marital subsystem, a meta-analysis that included eight studies on marital – sibling relationship associations revealed that sibling relationships were more positive in divorced as compared with always-married families ( Kunz, 2001 ). Other research showed, however, that sibling conflict and negativity were higher in divorced and separated versus married families ( Noller, Conway, & Blakeley-Smith, 2008 ), and higher in single-parent versus stepparent and married families ( Deater-Deckard, Dunn, & Lussier, 2002 ). Inconsistent findings may be due to the dimensions of sibling relationships examined. Noller et al. classified siblings on the basis of the combination of positivity and negativity and found that “affect intense” sibling relationships, characterized by both high positivity and high negativity, were overrepresented in divorced and separated families as compared with married families. An important insight here is that understanding sibling dynamics requires simultaneous attention to multiple dimensions of the relationship.

Accumulating research also suggests that marital and family processes, such as spousal conflict, coparenting, and parenting behaviors, are better predictors of sibling relationship qualities than is family status ( O’Connor, Hetherington, & Reiss, 1998 ). Findings have generally been consistent with a spillover process, such that hostility and conflict in the marital subsystem and negativity in parent – child relationships are linked to sibling conflict ( Kim, McHale, Osgood, & Crouter, 2006 ) and violence ( Hoffman, Kiecolt, & Edwards, 2005 ). Negativity in the parent – child relationship also was shown to mediate links between marital and sibling subsystem dynamics ( Stocker & Youngblade, 1999 ). Some youth may compensate for family negativity (e.g., in their parents’ marriage), however, by forming close sibling relationships, which in turn protect youth from adjustment problems ( Jenkins, 1992 ; Kim et al.; Milevsky & Levitt, 2005). An important step is to identify the conditions under which spillover versus compensatory processes emerge.

Family systems influences on sibling relationships also have been studied via mothers’ and fathers’ differential treatment of siblings. Systemic family influences are evident in investigations of mother – father patterns of differential treatment and their implications for siblings ( Kan, McHale, & Crouter, 2008 ; Solmeyer, Killoren, McHale, & Updegraff, 2011 ; Volling & Elins, 1998 ). This work suggests that incongruence between mothers’ and fathers’ differential treatment, such that one parent shows preferential treatment toward one sibling and the other does not, may mark a parent – child coalition or breakdown in coparenting that is associated with negative sibling and marital dynamics and poorer adjustment in both siblings. This work also exemplifies how including siblings in research on families allows researchers to capture novel dynamics and illuminate how families operate as systems.

Sociocultural Factors in Sibling Relationships

Substantial variability in the cultural and family settings in which children’s and adolescents’ lives are embedded underscores the need to represent these diverse contexts in efforts to understand variations in sibling relationships. The rapid growth of ethnic minority and immigrant populations ( U.S. Census Bureau, 2011 ), underscores the need for greater attention to sibling dynamics in these groups. The literature provides a foundation for understanding sibling dynamics among at-risk ethnic minority youth, but research on normative processes in ethnic minority youths’ sibling relationships and sources of within-culture variation is rare.

Studies of families in challenging circumstances highlight the unique contributions of siblings to ethnic minority youths’ adjustment. For example, longitudinal data showed that the risk of teenage pregnancy increased fourfold for the younger sisters of Latina and African American adolescent mothers and that having an older sister who became a parent before age 20 posed a substantially greater risk than having a mother who became pregnant during adolescence ( East, Reyes, & Horn, 2007 ). Among poor, rural, African American families, older siblings’ problem behaviors and attitudes were significantly linked to their younger siblings’ conduct problems ( Brody, Ge, et al., 2003 ).

Much less is known about the ways siblings contribute to one another’s positive development in ethnic minority families. One exception is a longitudinal study conducted by Brody, Kim, Murry, and Brown (2003) , which showed that, in rural, African American, single-parent families, older siblings’ social and cognitive competence explained changes in younger siblings’ competencies via their self-regulation. How siblings promote positive development among ethnic minority youth in both high- and low-risk settings is an important direction for future research.

Other studies complement cross-cultural work ( Nuckolls, 1993 ), using ethnic-homogeneous research designs to illuminate sources of within-group variability in sibling processes. An advantage of ethnic-homogeneous designs is that researchers can target cultural practices and values specific to a cultural group. For example, familism and simpatía values in Mexican American families ( Gamble & Modry-Mandell, 2008 ; Killoren, Thayer, & Updegraff, 2008 ; Updegraff, McHale, Whiteman, Thayer, & Delgado, 2005 ) and spirituality and ethnic identity in African American families ( McHale, Whiteman, Kim, & Crouter, 2007 ) were linked to more positive sibling relationships. In contrast to ethnic-comparative designs, in which inferences about the role of culture are made on the basis of patterns of group differences, ethnic-homogeneous designs allow for direct tests of the role of cultural processes in sibling dynamics.

Sibling Relationship-Focused Interventions

Sibling relationships can be shaped deliberately in intervention programs designed to promote positive and reduce negative dynamics. Although siblings have been largely overlooked in family-based prevention and intervention programs, targeting sibling relationships can provide a less stigmatizing entrée into families than focusing on parent – child or marital relationship problems ( Feinberg, Solmeyer, & McHale, 2012 ). Defining the role of siblings in interventions broadly, current work falls into three areas: (a) interventions that target siblings of at-risk youth; (b) family-based programs whose effects cross over to benefit the siblings of targeted youth; and (c) programs designed to alter sibling relationships via changes in parents’ or siblings’ behaviors, skills, and cognitions.

In recognition of the potential family system effects of children’s disabilities and illnesses, some programs have been designed to support their siblings. One community-based program targeting children with chronic health problems and disabilities resulted in increases in siblings’ self-esteem, perceived support, and knowledge of siblings’ illness/disability and in declines in behavior problems ( Williams et al., 2003 ). Equally important are prevention programs for siblings of youth with adjustment problems who are at disproportionate risk for exhibiting similar problems. East, Kiernan, and Chavez (2003) showed that younger sisters of adolescent mothers who participated in a multifaceted prevention program exhibited lower pregnancy and truancy rates compared with girls in the control group.

Effects of family-based programs can also cross over to nontarget siblings. An intervention for younger siblings of adjudicated youth found positive effects on nontarget adolescent, but not preadolescent, siblings: Adolescent siblings in the intervention group, as compared with the control group, showed declines in delinquency and deviant behaviors ( Brotman et al., 2005 ). These sibling effects were unexpected but suggest that family-based interventions aimed at reducing problem behavior for multiple children in a family may be cost efficient and effective.

Only a few programs directly target sibling relationships, and these generally focus on reducing conflict and aggression ( Kramer, 2004 ). Typically, parents are trained to address young children’s sibling relationship problems. In one study, mothers were taught to serve as mediators of sibling disputes, and the results revealed improvements in children’s conflict resolution, social understanding, and engagement ( Siddiqui & Ross, 2004 ).

Kennedy and Kramer (2008) designed an intervention to promote prosocial sibling relationship skills and reduce problem behaviors. A trial with European American siblings in early and middle childhood demonstrated positive effects, including enhanced emotional regulation and positive sibling relationship ratings postintervention. Feinberg and colleagues’ (e.g., Solmeyer et al., 2010 ) intervention for middle childhood siblings was aimed at promoting social competencies and reducing sibling conflict via an after-school program with interspersed family meetings. Preliminary results provided evidence of the program’s effectiveness in improving sibling relationships and youth and parent well-being. In addition to their practical utility, such experimental studies allow for tests of causal hypotheses regarding sibling dynamics that can only be inferred from descriptive and correlational research. Testing theory in such translational research is an important direction for work on factors that shape sibling relationships and their influences.

Sibling Influences on Development and Adjustment

In this section, we review research on siblings’ influences on one another’s development. Most of this work has focused on siblings’ direct influences, such as when they shape behavior during everyday interactions, serve as sources of social support, or act as role models. Less attention has been paid to the ways siblings influence one another indirectly in their roles as building blocks of the family structure and through ripple effects of their behavior and experiences throughout the family system. Although family scholars have not focused extensively on siblings, investigators from disciplines including human development, sociology, psychology, and health have paid increasing attention to sibling influences. Because of space limitations, our review is not exhaustive but is directed at showcasing major areas of study. Again, readers will see that much of this work is grounded in the theoretical perspectives we described earlier.

Direct Sibling Influences

Siblings’ extensive contact and companionship during childhood and adolescence—increasingly outside the direct supervision of parents or other adults—provides ample opportunity for them to shape one another’s behavior and socioemotional development and adjustment. Most research on direct sibling influences is grounded in developmental or social learning models, suggesting that, by virtue of their everyday involvement, siblings can promote positive development as well as adjustment problems.

Sibling interactions and children’s social-cognitive development

One line of work can be traced to early observational studies of young siblings ( Dunn, 1983 ) and targets sibling interactions as unique opportunities for social – cognitive development. Through their conflicts, for example, siblings can develop skills in perspective taking, emotion understanding, negotiation, persuasion, and problem solving ( Brown, Donelan-McCall, & Dunn, 1996 ; Dunn, 2007 ; Howe, Rinaldi, Jennings, & Petrakos, 2002 ). Notably, these competencies extend beyond the sibling relationship and are linked to later social competence, emotion understanding, and peer relationships ( Stormshak, Bellanti, Bierman, & The Conduct Problems Prevention Research Group, 1996 ; Updegraff; McHale, & Crouter, 2002 ; Youngblade & Dunn, 1995 ). In adolescence, siblings also contribute to positive developmental outcomes, including prosocial behavior ( Brody, Kim, et al., 2003 ; Whiteman, McHale, & Crouter, 2007 ), empathy ( Tucker, Updegraff, McHale, & Crouter, 1999 ), and academic engagement ( Bouchey, Shoulberg, Jodl, & Eccles, 2010 ). Although influence processes in adolescence are rarely studied directly, sibling support has been linked to adolescent adjustment ( Branje, van Lieshout, van Aken, & Haselager, 2004 ).

Sibling influences on adjustment problems

Not all of what siblings learn in their exchanges is positive, and an increasing focus in the past two decades has been on sibling influences on adolescents’ risky behavior and adjustment problems. Sibling conflicts in childhood, for example, are associated with concurrent and later deviance, school problems, bullying, substance use, and internalizing symptoms ( Bank, Burraston, & Snyder, 2004 ; Stocker, Burwell, & Briggs, 2002 ). Much of the work on sibling influences on adjustment problems is grounded in Patterson’s (1984) social learning model, showing that coercive interaction styles learned in the context of sibling conflict extend to aggression with peers ( Bank et al., 2004 ; Criss & Shaw, 2005 ) and antisocial behaviors ( Compton, Snyder, Schrepferman, Bank, & Shortt, 2003 ). In addition to providing a setting for practicing coercive behaviors, reinforcing antisocial behaviors such as deviant talk, and colluding to undermine parental authority ( Bullock & Dishion, 2002 ), siblings (especially older ones) provide each other with models of deviant behavior and serve as gatekeepers to delinquent peers and risky activities ( Rowe & Gulley, 1992 ; Windle, 2000 ). Concordance between siblings’ externalizing and antisocial behaviors during adolescence ( Criss & Shaw, 2005 ; Fagan & Najman, 2003 ) has been interpreted as evidence of sibling influences, although again, in studies of adolescents, these sibling influence processes are rarely measured directly.

Other work has documented sibling concordance in adolescents’ substance use ( Fagan & Najman, 2005 ; Scholte, Poelen, Willemsen, Boomsma, & Engels, 2008 ; Slomkowski, Rende, Novak, Lloyd-Richardson, & Niaura, 2005 ). An important methodological advance here is documenting that sibling influences emerge beyond the effects of parents and peers ( Fagan & Najman, 2005 ; Windle, 2000 ). Some findings suggest that sibling influences are stronger than parental influences and possibly as strong as that of peers ( Brook, Whiteman, Gordon, & Brook, 1990 ). Although sibling similarities in substance use can arise through a variety of mechanisms, including shared genetics and parenting, twin and adoption studies show that siblings have unique social influences ( McGue, Sharma, & Benson, 1996 ; Rende, Slomkowski, Lloyd-Richardson, & Niaura, 2005 ; Slomkowski et al., 2005 ). In addition to social learning, youth shape the environments in which their siblings’ substance use attitudes and behaviors develop. Older siblings also help to create family norms and expectancies regarding substance use ( Epstein, Griffin, & Botvin, 2008 ), which influence later use. Finally, siblings may expose each other to settings and peer groups in which substance use is accepted. In fact, siblings’ patterns of use are more strongly correlated when they share friends ( Rende et al., 2005 ).

Siblings also are similar in their risky sexual behaviors, including age at first intercourse ( Widmer, 1997 ) and attitudes about sex and teenage pregnancy ( East, 1998 ; McHale, Bissell, & Kim, 2009 ). In explaining sibling similarity, researchers invoke family norms and sibling socialization effects ( East, 1998 ), especially social learning ( McHale et al., 2009 ). For example, older siblings may transmit beliefs about sexual activity and childbearing; provide information regarding sexual activities, including safe sexual practices; and even exert pressure to engage in sexual activities ( East, 1998 ; Kowal & Blinn-Pike, 2004 ; Widmer, 1997 ). As a result, younger siblings may become sexually involved at an earlier age. In line with social learning tenets, sibling similarities in risky sexual behaviors are greatest for same-sex siblings and those with warm relationships ( McHale et al., 2009 ) and when siblings share friends ( East, 1998 ). Beyond models and sources of information, older siblings may play a matchmaker role, introducing their brothers and sisters to partners who are older and possibly more experienced sexually, leading to an increased risk for early sexual activity ( Rodgers, Rowe, & Harris, 1992 ).

Sibling differentiation

Differentiation processes also involve siblings treating one another as sources of social comparison but imply that siblings treat one another as foils, de-identifying from one another by selecting different niches in the family and developing distinct personal qualities. In line with Adler’s theory of individual psychology, some work suggests that differentiation dynamics help protect siblings from rivalry and jealousy ( Schachter et al., 1976 ; Sulloway, 1996 ). Although sibling differentiation is hypothesized to lead to warmer and less conflictual sibling relationships, the findings have been mixed ( Feinberg, McHale, Crouter, & Cumsille, 2003 ; Whiteman, Bernard, & McHale, 2010 ; Whiteman et al., 2007 ).

Early work on sibling differentiation focused on personality and temperament ( Schachter et al., 1976 ), and more recent studies have shown that differentiation dynamics are prevalent in domains ranging from adjustment ( Feinberg & Hetherington, 2000 ) to social competence and risky behaviors and attitudes ( Whiteman et al., 2010 ). This work is important given that differentiation processes have not been the focus of research on sibling influences on adjustment and that differentiation processes may become increasingly evident in adolescence, when identity development is a salient task. Furthermore, when not measured directly, the strength of sibling influence processes may be underestimated, because some serve to make siblings alike and others serve to make siblings different.

Indirect Sibling Influences

Most current research focuses on direct mechanisms of sibling influence, but evidence is accumulating on the processes through which siblings indirectly affect one another ( McHale et al., 2006 ). Below we consider siblings’ indirect influences via their effects on other family members, on broader family dynamics, and as building blocks of the family structure. Our review reveals that we know far less about siblings’ place in such family system dynamics than we do about the sibling dyad per se. This is a direction that is ripe for research.

Learning from experience

A recent line of study suggests that siblings can provide learning opportunities for their parents that have implications for how parents carry out their parental roles. The significance of child effects on parents has a long tradition in developmental and family studies, but almost all of this work has focused on children’s dyadic relationships with their parents ( McHale et al., 2006 ). Research that takes sibling dynamics into account has revealed that children also can influence parents’ expectations, knowledge, and parenting behavior in ways that have implications for their siblings. Whiteman and Buchanan (2002) found that parents who had experienced an earlier-born child’s transition to adolescence were less likely to expect later-born offspring to exhibit emotional and behavioral problems during this transition. Altered expectations, combined with what parents learn through practice, may have important implications: Comparisons of siblings’ relationships with parents at the same chronological ages, for example, have shown that parents exhibit more effective parenting behaviors, including lower conflict and higher levels of warmth and parental knowledge, with secondborn than with firstborn adolescents ( Shanahan, McHale, Osgood, & Crouter, 2007 ; Whiteman, McHale, & Crouter, 2003 ). We know next to nothing, however, about parents’ learning experiences at other points in family life, such as pregnancy and the transition to parenthood, children’s school transitions, or young adults’ transitions out of the home. A learning-from-experience model suggests that parents may be more efficient and effective at managing parenthood challenges the second (or third) time around. This model contrasts with the resource dilution model, described below, which holds that each successive child results in lowered family investments, with negative implications for later-born children.

Furthermore, what parents learn from their experiences may not always have positive implications. East (1998) argued that teenage childbearing by an older sister may increase the chances of a younger sister also becoming a teen parent when mothers come to believe that they are unable to control their daughters’ sexual activities and give up on parenting efforts toward other daughters. Helping parents make the most of their learning experiences may be a fruitful focus for parent education and family interventions.

Parents’ differential treatment

As Adler argued, children indirectly shape their brothers’ and sisters’ characteristics and behaviors by serving as sources of social comparison, and from a very young age they attend to the ways in which their parents treat them relative to their siblings ( Ansbacher & Ansbacher, 1956 ). A body of work now shows that differential treatment, such as in privileges, discipline, and parent – child conflict and affection, are linked to less positive sibling relationships ( Brody & Stoneman, 1994 ; Shanahan, McHale, Crouter, & Osgood, 2008 ), poorer adjustment, and adjustment differences between siblings, with disfavored children generally showing poorer adjustment ( Coldwell, Pike, & Dunn, 2008 ; Conger & Conger, 1994 ; McGuire, Dunn, & Plomin, 1995 ). Some research indicates that the implications of differential treatment are evident beyond the effects of parent – child dyadic relationship quality ( Feinberg & Hetherington, 2001 ; Shanahan et al., 2008 ). The negative implications of differential treatment, however, are moderated by youths’ understanding of parents’ reasons for differential treatment, their perceptions of its fairness, and their family values ( Kowal & Kramer, 1997 ; McHale, Updegraff, Shanahan, Crouter, & Killoren, 2005 ).

Resource dilution

Siblings are building blocks of the family structure, and their constellation has implications for family dynamics. Grounded in ideas about the role of social and economic capital in youth development, decades of research tested the role of sibling constellation factors in intelligence and achievement. The resource-dilution model has considerable conceptual appeal, moving research on family influences beyond the sibling or parent – child dyad to target the larger family system ( Downey, 2001 ; Rodgers, 2001 ; Steelman, Powell, Werum, & Carter, 2002 ). From this perspective, however, sibling influences are negative. On the basis of a review of hundreds of studies, mostly conducted in the United States, Steelman et al. concluded that “the evidence of a negative relationship between size of sibling group and academic success, at least in the United States … has been virtually unequivocal” (p. 248).

Debate continues, however, regarding the causal effects of sibling constellation in achievement. For instance, instead of large sibships causing lower achievement, the alternative, admixture hypothesis proposes that lower achieving parents have more children ( Rodgers, 2001 ). Sibship size effects also are malleable: National comparisons show that family size effects are not evident in countries with strong family supportive policies ( Park, 2008 ); historical analyses reveal within-country changes over time in these effects that are correlated with changes in social policies and economic conditions ( Maralani, 2008 ); and even within the United States, sibship size effects on achievement are not evident in Mormon families, which emphasize the importance of family ( Downey, 2001 ). Most significantly, although the resource-dilution model proposes that family size sets into motion family processes that are the proximal causes of youth achievement, as in other lines of research on siblings those processes have rarely been measured directly (see Downey, 1995 , and Strohschein, Gauthier, Campbell, & Kleparchuk, 2008 , for exceptions).


Our review reveals that early writers’ efforts to motivate research on siblings have borne fruit in the form of a relatively small literature on siblings’ place in family structure, their role in family dynamics, and their influences on child and adolescent development. In addition, the past two decades have seen advances in the methodological sophistication of sibling research, including attention to both members of the dyad, some efforts to directly measure social and socializing processes involving siblings, consideration of the larger contexts in which siblings are embedded, and the study of sibling relationships and influences using experimental and longitudinal designs. From this work we can draw several conclusions about sibling relationships and influences in childhood and adolescence, although there remain important directions for future research. We address these two topics in this final section of this review.

Lessons Learned From the Literature on Sibling Relationships

Taken together, theory and research on siblings reveal first that sibling relationships are shaped by individual, family, and extrafamilial forces. Although siblings are ubiquitous in the lives of children and adolescents, the characteristics of their relationships and roles vary considerably across time and place, with corresponding implications for the nature and power of sibling influences on youth and families ( Updegraff, McHale, Killoren, & Rodriguez, 2010 ; Weisner, 1989 ).

A second insight from the extant literature is that sibling influences on youth development and adjustment are unique in the sense that evidence of sibling influences emerges even after the effects of other significant relationships are taken into account ( Brook et al., 1990 ; Windle, 2000 ). The power of sibling influences may stem from the multifaceted—and, in some cases, unique—social and psychological processes through which siblings are thought to exert their effects ( Dunn, 2007 ). A related lesson is that studying sibling influences directs attention to novel social, psychological, and family processes—such as sibling de-identification, parents’ learning from experience, and the operation of family coalitions—that have been largely overlooked in empirical research on families. Most family research has been conducted with the seeming assumption that studying one child in a family is sufficient for understanding how families operate and how they influence individual development and adjustment. Research on siblings has revealed, however, that two individuals from the same family are often as different as unrelated individuals ( Plomin & Daniels, 1987 ), suggesting that, in failing to incorporate siblings in their investigations, family scholars may be missing important pieces of the family puzzle.

In addition to the theoretical primacy of parent – child and marital bonds ( Irish, 1964 ), methodological complexities may be a deterrent to incorporating siblings into family research: Identifying and recruiting a sample that takes sibling structure variables (age spacing, gender constellation, birth order, and sibship size) into account is an expensive and difficult task, measuring the individual and family relationship characteristics of more than one child in a family increases the demands of data collection, and the field lacks a toolkit for quantitative analysis of triadic and larger systemic family processes. In the face of such deterrents, however, our review suggests that studying more than one child in a family can provide a window into how families operate as social and socializing systems. Despite its conceptual appeal, empirical research on families as systems is rare. This may be in part because systems processes are difficult to measure and in part because propositions regarding causal processes within family systems theory are limited. Including siblings in family research opens up opportunities to move beyond dyadic relationships to examine more complex, higher order processes, such as parents’ differential treatment of two siblings or mothers’ and fathers’ coparenting of siblings, and to test hypotheses about family processes derived from a range of theoretical perspectives.

Directions for Future Research

For family scholars who pursue research on sibling relationships and influences, our review also reveals several directions for future research. Foremost is the necessity of direct measurement of hypothesized influence processes. In most research, sibling influence processes are inferred from patterns of sibling outcomes, such as when sibling concordance is interpreted as evidence of social learning ( Criss & Shaw, 2005 ; Slomkowski et al., 2005 ). Given that some sibling influence processes operate to make siblings alike and other processes operate to make siblings different from one another ( Whiteman et al., 2007 ), measuring only patterns of outcomes may underestimate sibling influences. Testing mediational models to document the processes that explain sibling similarities and differences is an important part of this agenda.

Direct examination of the processes through which siblings influence the larger family system also is needed. Several lines of work suggest that siblings have implications for one another’s family experiences, but again, the underlying processes, such as whether parents learn from experience ( Whiteman et al., 2003 ) or whether siblings dilute family resources ( Downey, 2001 ), require direct assessment. Expanding these lines of research to examine the implications of developmental transitions (e.g., a firstborn’s entry into formal schooling or move out of the home) for siblings and sibling dynamics may help to illuminate sibling influences on their families ( Volling, 2012 ).

Another important direction is toward greater integration of the diverse theoretical and disciplinary approaches that undergird the study of sibling relationships. Our review reveals that research conducted in the past two decades has been grounded in theoretical traditions and associated methodologies that are largely complementary. Increasing appreciation of interdisciplinary scholarship, however, highlights what researchers can learn from theories, methods, and knowledge bases derived from different fields of study.

The field also would benefit from examinations of the increasingly diverse family and larger sociocultural contexts in which siblings interact and exert their influences. Most of the research we reviewed here draws from samples of European and European American families with singleton biological siblings. Demographic changes in rates of cohabitation, marriage, divorce, and multiple births have resulted in substantial diversity in the family contexts in which siblings’ relationships are embedded. Comparative designs document differences in sibling relationship qualities as a function of family type (e.g., Deater-Deckard et al., 2002 ; Noller et al., 2008 ) but, as we have suggested, a process-oriented approach is necessary for illuminating how and why sibling relationships develop differently in different family contexts.

Relatedly, the growing immigrant population in the United States ( U.S. Census Bureau, 2011 ) necessitates the study of sibling relationships and their influences in diverse groups. Scholarship on siblings in African American and Latino families has emerged in the last decade, but our knowledge of sibling relationships in their sociocultural contexts remains limited. As in the larger field of research on ethnic minority families, researchers should investigate siblings’ role in positive development, examine dyads from a range of socioeconomic circumstances, and study how sibling relationships and influences unfold over time. Using both ethnic-homogeneous and ethnic-comparative designs also will increase our understanding of within- and between-group variability in sibling relationship dynamics ( McLoyd, 1998 ).

Building on these recommendations for a focus on process and context, and consistent with an ecological perspective ( Bronfenbrenner, 1979 ), another step is to examine the interplay among sibling structure characteristics, relationship processes, and larger family and sociocultural contextual conditions. Early efforts to match sibling structure to relational processes revealed that structure explained process neither consistently nor completely ( Buhrmester & Furman, 1990 ). A solution was to highlight the significance of social processes, but this approach leaves open the question of whether structural factors condition the effects of process. Relatedly, as we have noted, siblings are building blocks of family structure, yet beyond research on sibship size almost nothing is known about family-wide constellations of sibling relationships and roles, including how experiences in one sibling relationship influence dynamics in another, or moderate their impact on development. Given that about 40% of U.S. children live in households with more than one sibling, studying sibling relationships at the family level to capture multiple dyads is crucial for understanding how families operate.

Our final recommendation is to strengthen the theoretical and empirical understanding of sibling relationship and influence processes through translational research. Consistent with the neglect of sibling relationships by family scholars, prevention and intervention researchers have paid scant attention to siblings ( Feinberg et al., 2012 ; Kramer, 2004 ). Experimental trials of sibling-focused interventions designed to alter sibling relationship qualities such as conflict resolution ( Siddiqui & Ross, 2004 ) or emotion regulation ( Kennedy & Kramer, 2008 ) have provided opportunities to study the causal effects of sibling dynamics on youth adjustment and larger family processes ( Feinberg et al., 2012 ). Such experimental tests of models of sibling influence have both theoretical and practical implications.

Retrospect and Prospect

In his early efforts to motivate research on siblings, Irish (1964) noted that most of the literature on families “would lead one to conclude that parents rear their children one at a time—or in separate compartments” (p. 287). In the face of the ubiquity of siblings and sibling relationships in family life and their documented significance for family dynamics and development and adjustment during childhood and adolescence, sibling research still remains outside the mainstream of scholarship on families. We have argued that incorporating information about multiple siblings and their relationships into research on families can provide new insights about family dynamics and about how families operate as social and socializing systems. We hope that the next generation of family scholars finds our case convincing!


We acknowledge support from the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development (Grant r01-hd32336, Susan m. McHale and Ann c. Crouter, Co-Principal Investigators [PIs], and Grant r01hd39666, Kimberly Updegraff, pi); from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (Grant r21-aa017490, Shawn d. Whiteman, pi); and from the Population Research Center at The Pennsylvania State University, which is supported by an infrastructure grant (r24-hd041025) from the National Institutes of Health. We thank Susan Doughty and Cynthia Mitchell for their assistance in this article’s preparation.

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Essays on Sibling

Choosing sibling essay topics.

When it comes to writing an essay on the topic of siblings, there are numerous options to consider. Sibling relationships are complex and multifaceted, offering a rich source of material for exploration and analysis. In this guide, we will discuss the importance of choosing a compelling sibling essay topic, offer advice on selecting an appropriate topic, and provide a detailed list of recommended essay topics, divided into categories.

The Importance of the Topic

The topic of siblings is significant for several reasons. Sibling relationships play a crucial role in shaping an individual's identity, personality, and social development. Exploring the dynamics of sibling relationships can provide valuable insights into family dynamics, interpersonal communication, and the impact of birth order. Additionally, writing about siblings can offer writers an opportunity for self-reflection and personal growth, as they navigate their own experiences and emotions related to their siblings.

Advice on Choosing a Topic

When selecting a sibling essay topic, it is essential to consider your personal interests, experiences, and the scope of the assignment. Reflect on your relationship with your siblings and think about the aspects of this relationship that you find most compelling. Consider the themes and issues related to sibling dynamics that resonate with you and align with the goals of your essay. Additionally, it can be helpful to brainstorm and research potential topics to ensure that you have a diverse range of ideas to choose from.

Recommended Essay Topics

Below is a list of recommended essay topics, divided into categories, to help you find inspiration for your sibling essay:

Family Dynamics

  • The influence of sibling relationships on family dynamics
  • The role of birth order in shaping sibling relationships
  • The impact of parental favoritism on sibling dynamics
  • The portrayal of sibling relationships in literature and media

Personal Reflection

  • Exploring your own sibling relationships and their effects on your life
  • Challenges and rewards of being an older or younger sibling
  • Navigating sibling rivalry and conflict resolution
  • The evolution of sibling relationships over time

Psychological Perspectives

  • The psychological significance of sibling relationships in childhood and adulthood
  • The influence of siblings on personality development and identity formation
  • The impact of sibling relationships on mental health and well-being
  • Exploring the concept of "sibling rivalry" from a psychological standpoint

Social and Cultural Context

  • Comparing and contrasting sibling relationships across different cultures and societies
  • The role of gender and cultural norms in shaping sibling dynamics
  • How sibling relationships contribute to socialization and peer interactions
  • The impact of family structure and dynamics on sibling relationships

Choosing a compelling sibling essay topic is essential for engaging readers and exploring the complexities of sibling relationships. By considering your personal experiences, interests, and the scope of your assignment, you can select a topic that resonates with you and offers valuable insights to your readers. The recommended essay topics provided in this guide cover a diverse range of themes and issues related to sibling relationships, ensuring that you have a wealth of options to choose from when crafting your essay.

Ultimately, the topic you choose should allow you to delve into the nuances of sibling relationships, offering a thoughtful and thought-provoking exploration of this significant aspect of human experience.

Positive Effects of Having a Sibling

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Advantages of Having Siblings: Impact on Personality Development

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essay about having siblings

essay about having siblings

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National siblings day is a celebration born of love — and grief.

While not an official holiday, National Siblings Day on April 10 has gained momentum on social media in recent years.

Updated April 10, 2024 at 9:11 AM ET

Every April 10 for several years now, many social media feeds are transformed into a virtual family album of sorts, as friends and acquaintances post photos to mark National Siblings Day.

But unlike many of the unofficial holidays that clutter the calendar year — from Talk Like a Pirate Day to National French Fry Day — National Siblings Day is neither frivolous nor commercially motivated. Instead, it is a holiday born of profound love — and loss.

As NPR's Science Desk explores the science of siblings , we decided to reach out to Claudia Evart, the woman who conceived the holiday. She grew up with an older brother and sister. They were her first best friends, her support and her mentors, she says.

The origin story of National Siblings Day

Tragically, both of Evart's siblings died at young ages in separate accidents. Her sister, Lisette, was just 19 when she was killed in a car accident, alongside their father. Evart was 17. Fourteen years later, Evart's brother, Alan, died after hitting his head in a fall.

"You always think they'll be there," she says. "And I took them for granted, and I didn't realize how much they meant to me. Until you lose them, [then] you realize what you lost. "

In 1995, a decade after Alan's death, Evart says she was celebrating her own birthday in late March when she was struck by an overpowering sense of sadness and loneliness. "I came to the realization that I would never again celebrate my birthday with my beloved siblings . "

"It's the most powerful relationship you ever have in your life," she says, adding, "It's a very hard thing to lose your siblings. The void is just so intense."

Evart says she created National Siblings Day both to honor her own siblings' memories and to encourage widespread recognition of the unique bond between siblings. It's on April 10 every year because that is Lisette's birthday. "We have Mother's and Father's Day. Why not have your siblings recognized?"

While National Siblings Day isn't a federal holiday, former Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama have all issued letters recognizing the day, according to the Siblings Day Foundation , which Evart founded.

The author, Maria Godoy (second from right), with her sisters (from left): Monica Hanson, Elena Lynn and Olga Czekalski. Her daughter, Lily Hakim, is in front.

Evart says she'd like to see people mark the day by taking the time to cherish their siblings. "Whether you're reliving childhood memories, planning an outing or simply spending quality time together, let's make this day special. Reach out to your siblings, near and far, and let them know how much they mean to you."

As for those photos and heartfelt messages that will likely flood social media again this year? "It's the greatest thing," she says.

In that spirit, I will close with a shamelessly earnest message of my own: Monica, Olga, Elena, thank you for being the best sisters I could ever ask for.

More from the Science of Siblings series:

  • The order your siblings were born in may play a role in identity and sexuality
  • In the womb, a brother's hormones can shape a sister's future
  • These identical twins both grew up with autism, but took very different paths

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

essay about having siblings

Beyond the Arc: the Curry Siblings and their Athletic Legacy

This essay about the Curry siblings—Stephen, Seth, and Sydel—explores their athletic achievements and the influence of their family’s legacy on their careers. It highlights Stephen’s record-breaking success in the NBA, Seth’s establishment as a respected player in the league, and Sydel’s accomplishments in collegiate volleyball. The narrative underscores the role of their parents, both former athletes, in fostering a competitive yet supportive environment that nurtured the siblings’ talents from a young age. The essay also examines the values of hard work, discipline, and humility instilled by their upbringing. Furthermore, it touches on how the Curry siblings have used their prominence to inspire and give back to the community, extending their impact beyond sports. Collectively, their stories underscore the blend of innate talent and perseverance, amplified by familial support, as key elements of their success, making the Curry family a notable example of athletic excellence and inspirational leadership in sports.

How it works

In the world of professional sports, few families have made as significant an impact as the Currys. While Stephen Curry’s meteoric rise in the NBA has captivated basketball fans worldwide, the story of his siblings, Seth and Sydel Curry, adds depth to an already fascinating family narrative. This essay delves into the lives of the Curry siblings, exploring their individual journeys in athletics, the influence of their family, and how they’ve each carved out their unique spaces in the world of sports.

Stephen Curry, the eldest of the trio, has become synonymous with unparalleled shooting ability and a transformative presence in basketball. His achievements, including multiple NBA championships and MVP awards, have cemented his status as one of the game’s all-time greats. However, Stephen’s success is but one part of the Curry family’s athletic saga. Seth Curry, the middle child, has also made his mark in the NBA, demonstrating that talent and perseverance run deep in the family veins. Despite facing the immense challenge of stepping out of his older brother’s shadow, Seth has established himself as a formidable player, known for his sharpshooting skills and tenacity on the court.

Sydel Curry-Lee, the youngest of the siblings, has charted a different course, showcasing the family’s athletic versatility. Her passion and talent led her to a successful collegiate volleyball career at Elon University, where she distinguished herself as a talented setter. While Sydel’s professional path diverged from basketball, her dedication to sports and her achievements on the volleyball court highlight the broad spectrum of athletic talent within the Curry family.

The Curry siblings’ successes are, in part, a testament to their upbringing. Raised by Dell Curry, a former NBA sharpshooter, and Sonya Curry, a standout collegiate volleyball player, Stephen, Seth, and Sydel grew up in an environment that not only nurtured their athletic abilities but also emphasized the values of hard work, discipline, and humility. The influence of their parents’ athletic backgrounds and the supportive family dynamic have been pivotal in shaping their careers. This foundation has allowed each sibling to pursue their passions and excel in their respective fields while maintaining a close-knit bond that transcends their professional achievements.

Moreover, the Currys’ story is not just one of individual accomplishment but also of collective inspiration. Through their journeys, they’ve become symbols of perseverance, showcasing that success is attainable with dedication and a supportive network. The siblings have used their platforms to give back to the community, engage in philanthropic efforts, and inspire the next generation of athletes. Their impact extends beyond the courts and fields, contributing to a lasting legacy that will influence aspiring sportsmen and women for years to come.

In conclusion, the Curry siblings—Stephen, Seth, and Sydel—exemplify the profound impact a family can have on the world of sports. Their stories of achievement, driven by a combination of innate talent, hard work, and familial support, offer a compelling narrative about the power of legacy and the enduring bonds of family. As each continues to navigate their professional and personal lives, the Curry siblings remain a testament to the idea that while talent may be inherited, true greatness is forged through persistence and the unwavering support of those closest to us.


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