Study: Siblings Can Make you Happier

Think back to your childhood, and if siblings are presently on your mind, you most likely have either a reminiscent smile on your face or some emotional pain in your heart. Perhaps both. Like it or not, the siblings you grew up with shaped your life in some significant way. A new study, put forth by BYU‘s School of Family Life, reveals a unique link between altruism, adolescents, and their sibling relationships.

According to the Laura Padilla-Walker, one of the study‘s co-authors, a good, affectionate sibling relationship makes teens more likely to be sympathetic toward others. Without the opportunities for sharing and compromise that siblings provide, adolescents, particular boys, were less likely to gain a propensity for understanding the needs of others.

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An only child may be at a disadvantage.

The study, published in the Journal of Adolescent Research,  also showed that siblings affect each other even more than a best friend. “This was the first siblings study to control for all these other important relationships,” said Padilla-Walker. “We can say that siblings are uniquely important, which is encouraging.”

Learning about how our siblings shape us provides an incentive for parents to have multiple children, and do their best to make sure those relationships are positive.

It should be noted, however, that the study also found some potentially unfavorable results of sibling relationships. Sibling hostility was positively associated with adolescents’ depression, meaning that the more hostile a sibling, the higher the likelihood of a depressed teen. Further, it was found that boys, if part of a hostile sibling relationship, were more likely to  lash out at others, be aggressive, etc.

We see, then, that an affectionate relationship has long-lasting positive consequences. A hostile one can lead to depression and bad relationships later in life. So what can a parent do? If there are multiple children in the home, the best thing to do is promote a unified family relationship – one in which compromise is required, and affection is encouraged.

  • Consider drafting a family mission statement. A “bigger-picture” outlook or a common family goal  can provide a framework for teaching children to be good to each other. When a conflict between siblings arises, don’t see it as something that simply needs to be terminated, but rather as an opportunity to teach good behavior along with the “why” of what you are doing: trying to build a loving, cohesive family. There are a plethora of ideas on Pinterest on how to draft and present such a statement.

“The absence of conflict does not mean the presence of affection,” says Dr. Padilla-Walker. “It’s okay if siblings fight; but help them get through that and have other positive interactions.”

  • In an only child household, parents will best help their children by placing them in situations where they can interact with others. Give them opportunities to work things out between their friends.
  • Teach them to be kind, to share, to see things from others’ point of view. While the ideal setting of an affectionate sibling relationship will not be continuously available, there are still ways to teach the same principles and give them the same sort of positive interactive experiences.
  • Provide opportunities for dynamic, fun family activities.
  • Teach your children how to appropriately articulate their feelings, even when annoyed. The book Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson et al. can aid in this process.

Contributors to the study: Laura Padilla-Walker | James Harper | Alex Jensen

Feature photo courtesy of Flickr.

What things have you done to encourage sibling happiness today?

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