Siblings play a powerful role in child development. While siblings might compete for attention in the household, they can also become supportive friends and role models. Siblings who interact frequently influence the other's social behaviors and personalities as they develop into adults. In a 2004 article for the website Sage Journals, Gene H. Brody of the University of Georgia Center for Family Research writes, "Interactions with older siblings promote young children's language and cognitive development, their understanding of other people's emotions and perspectives, and, conversely, their development of antisocial behavior."
Children who grow up with older siblings observe and mimic their social behaviors because they regularly encounter similar circumstances and environments. According a 2010 article for the website Psych Central, "Parents are better at teaching the social niceties of more formal settings -- for example, how to act in public and how not to embarrass oneself at the dinner table. But siblings are better role models of the more informal behaviors -- how to act at school or on the street, or, most important, how to act cool around friends -- that constitute the bulk of a child’s everyday experiences."
Siblings can shape each other's personalities, and birth order can be key. For instance, an older sibling, who is used to being the first to learn things, might become more confident and develop stronger leadership skills. According to the book, "Supporting Children in Their Home, School, and Community," excerpted at Education.com, "Firstborn children, who are often surrogates for their parents as caregivers, teachers, and models, enjoy a greater status/power position in relationship to their younger siblings." She might be nurturing or more controlling. A middle child might become insecure and attention-seeking because she is neither the beloved first born or the adored baby. She might be rebellious or competitive. The youngest might become spontaneous and outgoing.
Comfort and Support
As first playmates, siblings can build close bonds. They might enjoy spending time together and learning from each other. However, sibling rivalry is common during childhood. While siblings might compete early on, those who are coached properly by their parents can eventually develop relationships of love and support. According to an article at the KidsHealth website, "As you grow up, your friends might change, but your family is your family forever." Children who have trusting relationships with their siblings might feel more secure and supported as they develop into adults.
By watching and listening to a sibling, children strengthen their communication skills. Older siblings might read out loud, sing songs, make jokes, or give instructions in front of their younger siblings, and in doing so, they act as role models. The more often children hear the sounds of language, the faster they will strengthen their own skills. While parents also model language and communication skills, siblings live in similar worlds and therefore might be more likely to absorb new information from an older brother or sister.