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Family Dynamics

What Difference Do Siblings Make?

Are siblings really "Good for Nothing"?

What difference do siblings make? Apparently not a lot when it comes to social skills.

Parents have been primed to be concerned that only children might have difficulties sharing and making friends and hence, be lonely, or bossy, or maladjusted. And now there's evidence to the contrary.

In 2004, Douglas Downey, a researcher at Ohio State University, found that kindergarteners who had no siblings scored lower on such social skills such as interpersonal relationships and self-control. In his study, "Playing Well with Others in Kindergarten: The Benefits of Siblings at Home," only children and those with one or more siblings were scored by their teachers. Only children and children with more than two siblings came up lacking. One has to question whether or not the teachers, like most people, had long held beliefs that only children are bossy and don't get along as well as children with siblings.

Downey's theory was, "Siblings fight with each other, they have conflicts, but they also figure out how to resolve those conflicts. That probably helps them deal with other children when they go to school." But, he warns, "We wouldn't encourage parents to have a second child simply as a strategy for improving social skills. Our findings are consistent, but they are modest. There are other things that parents can do to improve an only child's social skills, short of having another child." Indeed there are, and most parents of singletons are doing them by socializing their preschoolers early and having them interact on a regular basis with their peers at very young ages.

Worrying for no reason

The modest social skills deficit found in kindergarten disappears by middle school, according to Downey and co-author, Donna Bobbitt-Zeher, also at Ohio State. They presented the results of a new study, "Good for Nothing: Number of Siblings and Friendship Nominations among Adolescents" to the American Sociological Association in Atlanta this week. When 13,500 children in grades seven through twelve were asked to name ten friends, voila, the only children were just a popular as their peers with siblings. Furthermore, the authors noted, "These results contribute to the view that there is little risk to growing up without siblings-or alternatively, that siblings really may be ‘good for nothing."

Surely, there are benefits to having siblings, but being accepted and being well-liked are not among them.

For more, see Plays Well with Others; The Dark Side of Siblings; and How Siblings Teach Each Other...or Don't: Will Only Children be Disadvantaged?

Copyright @ 2011 by Susan Newman, Ph.D.

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