Written By: Eileen Vera
82% of people grow up with a sibling. That’s actually a higher amount than that who grow up in a home with a father (Journal of Marriage and Family, 2012). There are many studies about the science behind having a sibling and the kind of effect it has on a person later in life, from their education, to their own personal relationships. Some studies have found what appear to be rather obvious correlations.
The better your relationship with your siblings, the better and more long lasting your relationships tend to be in the future Annual Review of Sociology, 2002) . A positive relationship with a sibling who decides to pursue higher education increases your chances of going onto college yourself (Child Development, 2019). Siblings who get along tend to have higher self-esteem and grow more well-adjusted in the long term (Pediatrics, 2014). Conversely, tense sibling relationships are correlated with psychosis, depression, and self-harm in later years (Psychological Medicine, 2018).
Needless to say, having a poor sibling relationship does not necessarily sign your fate into a slippery slope towards substance abuse and depression. There are other factors that affect people, including their socioeconomic status, peers, and perhaps most importantly, parents. We do not necessarily have to fall into our birth order tropes of having younger, older, middle, or single child syndrome. Studies like the aforementioned can be used to analyze behavioral risk factors and treat them preventatively.
However, this generally negative consensus begs the question, is it possible to have a healthy sibling rivalry? And if we are capable of having this dichotomous, loving but rivalrous relationship with our siblings, what are some of its benefits?
Growing up as a middle child, I am no stranger to sibling rivalry. I have vivid memories of fights over hogging the bathroom and borrowing clothes without permission. In retrospect, the last fight I had with my brother, where he swore never speak to me again when I ate his last chicken nugget, was comical. However, all of these seemingly insignificant moments and how I chose to react contributed to the type of person I am in significant, and positive, ways.
The International Journal of Aging and Human Development posits that these moments of conflict should be considered constructive, as they teach children the importance of distinguishing assertiveness from aggression. Being able to react with the appropriate level of force is the norm, and anything that deviates from this can shed a light into the types of conflicts that child may have later on into adulthood. John Pickering, of Science 2.0, suggests that a little conflict can even make siblings grow closer. It forges closer bonds and confidence amongst siblings, along with valuable resolution skills. I know that I do not just speak for myself in saying that my siblings (and our rivalries) have had the most formative role in my development. They have taught me how to empathize with others despite the heat of the moment, how to see past my own needs, and how to create meaningful connections with another person that can outlast a tumultuous moment.