A Project of the Child Trends News Service Supported by the National Science Foundation

Siblings Impact Your Empathy Levels

ORLANDO, Fla. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — About 80 percent of Americans have at least one brother or sister. Consider this: kids today are more likely to grow up with a sibling than a father. But just what kind of influence can siblings have on each other? New research suggests it is significant.

They play together, share secrets, and sometimes fight! Still, growing up with a brother or sister can be rewarding. Now, science is showing siblings may play a big role in how kids develop empathy. Researchers in Canada looked at sibling pairs in 452 families. To measure empathy, the investigators pretended to be hurt and recorded how each child responded, then repeated the scenario 18 months later. Results showed kids who had very empathetic siblings during the first experiment became more empathetic themselves over the 18 months.

To teach kids empathy, experts say talk about their emotions, so they can express themselves. Connect their behaviors with feelings, so kids understand cause and effect, and teach emotional sharing or feeling sad for others when they’re in distress. Remember: siblings may be another key to helping you raise an empathetic child.

Interestingly, older siblings were more influential when there was a bigger age gap between them and the younger sibling. The link between empathy and siblings didn’t apply in one situation—when the younger sibling was a boy and the older sibling was a girl. In this case, the younger boy’s level of empathy didn’t seem to affect the older girl.

Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Supervising Producer; Julie Marks, Field Producer; Milvionne Chery, News Producer; Roque Correa, Editor.

Produced by Child Trends News Service in partnership with Ivanhoe Broadcast News and funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation. 

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