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Study looks at how sibling relationships impact kids' development

By Paul Nelson | Posted - Feb 11th, 2014 @ 7:58am

SALT LAKE CITY — Recent studies show that if kids in large families don’t get a lot of personal attention from their parents, their relationships with older siblings can have a big effect on their development. But, are there any downsides to this?

Reuters recently reported on research from Toronto showing a child’s relationship with older siblings can have a major impact on vocabulary skills. Children with many siblings scored lower on vocabulary tests, but the better the interaction with an older brother or sister, the higher a younger child scored on those tests.

If a child is closer to their siblings than their parents, does that mean their relationship with their parents is somehow compromised? Not necessarily. But counselors have seen cases where an older child can feel a sense of resentment, feeling they’ve been burdened with caring for a brother or sister.

“In some families, a 12-year-old given the responsibilities of younger siblings might not have the emotional strength to manage that,” said Dr. Douglas Goldsmith, executive director of The Children's Center. He said there are some jobs siblings just can’t do.

“Siblings are rarely able to provide the kind of nurture and care, when a child is sick or frightened, that parents are,” he said.

“The critical issue is that parents remain available to the child when the child is sick, when the child is hurt and when the child needs emotional support,” he added.

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