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Childhood Studies Siblings
by
Ashley Maynard

Introduction

Most children in the world grow up with one or more siblings. Interactions with siblings serve important functions in development because they allow children to practice roles and to observe other children who are related and who are more skilled. The sibling relationship is important in development through the lifespan, but the nature of sibling relationships varies across cultures. Even in childhood, siblings are effective at socializing each other in cultural activities involving cognitive and social skills. Through the lifespan, siblings bonds continue to different degrees across cultures.

General Overviews

The topic of siblings has been approached most notably in the fields of developmental psychology, including clinical approaches, and in anthropology. The role of siblings in childhood socialization has received much attention in recent years (e.g., Dunn and Plomin 1990, Maynard 2004, Nuckolls 1993, Zukow 1989, Zukow-Goldring 1995). Dunn and Kendrick 1982 examines sibling relationships from a European and European-American point of view.

  • Dunn, Judy, and Carol Kendrick. Siblings: Love, Envy, and Understanding. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1982.

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    A dominant theme is sibling rivalry, a cultural phenomenon in the West. The authors also focus on parent-child relationships, and how parents can support sibling relationships.

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  • Dunn, Judy, and Robert Plomin. Separate Lives: Why Siblings Are So Different. New York: Basic Books, 1990.

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    A book about siblings by a premier sibling researcher and a psychologist specializing in behavioral genetics. The book shows how heredity and environment interact in the development of children growing up in the same families.

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  • Maynard, Ashley E. “Sibling Interactions.” In Childhood and Adolescence: Cross-cultural Perspectives and Applications. Edited by Uwe Gielen and Jaipaul L. Roopnarine, 229–252. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2004.

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    This is a chapter reviewing sibling interactions across cultures.

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  • Nuckolls, Charles W., ed. Siblings in South Asia: Brothers and Sisters in Cultural Context. New York: Guilford, 1993.

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    This is an edited volume covering sibling relationships in South Asia from several perspectives, including those from developmental psychology, psychoanalysis, and ethnopsychology.

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  • Zukow, Patricia Goldring, ed. Sibling Interaction across Cultures: Theoretical and Methodological Issues. New York: Springer-Verlag, 1989.

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    This is an edited volume by a leading expert in sibling relationships. The book focuses on social interaction among siblings as an engine for social, emotional, and cognitive development.

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  • Zukow-Goldring, Patricia. “Sibling Caregiving.” In Handbook of Parenting. Vol. 3, Status and Social Conditions of Parenting. Edited by Marc H. Bornstein, 177–208. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1995.

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    This is a handbook chapter on sibling interactions. Zukow-Goldring reviews research on sibling interactions from a cultural and developmental perspective. This handbook chapter is an excellent place to start the study of sibling interactions across cultures.

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Journals

Journal articles related to the topic of siblings are typically found in journals related to developmental psychology (see Psychologically Oriented Journals). Anthropologically Oriented Journals also includes articles related to children, including siblings.

Psychologically Oriented Journals

Most of the research on siblings is conducted within the field of psychology. While there are many journals in this field that report research on children and families, the titles below may be considered the most prominent sources for research on siblings. It is recommended that the reader begin with these journals and then venture to other journals once familiar with the field of interest. Child Development and Developmental Psychology have the highest impact factors of the developmental journals, and though they report research from around the world, the focus is mainly on American contexts. The British Journal of Developmental Psychology and the International Journal of Behavioral Development report more research from other cultures, especially from Europe.

Anthropologically Oriented Journals

The field of anthropology may be a good resource for research on siblings that deals with cultural issues. Ethnographic methods, including those concerning children’s daily routines, are especially informative when studying siblings in the family context. American Anthropologist is the flagship journal of the field. Ethos reports the best of cultural research on a number of topics, including children and siblings. It should be noted, however, that these journals deal with many topics other than siblings.

  • American Anthropologist.

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    The leading journal of the American Anthropological Association, it includes occasional articles on children. This journal aims to advance anthropology as a discipline. Articles include theory and research related to biological, cultural, archeological, ethnological, and linguistic anthropology.

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  • Ethos.

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    The journal of the Society for Psychological Anthropology, a section of the American Anthropological Association. This journal publishes many articles on children and children’s culture. Articles are from a wide variety of perspectives, including child development, family relationships, and cultural beliefs systems. The journal explores the relationships between the individual and the sociocultural environment.

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Ecocultural Theory and Siblings

Wherever children develop in the world, sibling relationships are important, though the degree of importance varies from culture to culture and throughout the lifespan. In studying childhood, it is important to include siblings as members of family networks (Whaley, et al. 2002). Ecocultural theory provides a framework for understanding the important impact that siblings have on one another. The major premise of the theory is that culture influences the developing child: for example, each family member’s role in the family subsistence, how much time the siblings spend together, and whether or not older siblings are responsible for the care of the younger ones, all affect sibling relationships and a child’s ultimate development. There are various ecocultural influences on sibling interactions, including availability of personnel to care for children, cultural beliefs about sex roles and goals for child development, and whether or not a sibling group shares lifelong obligations to each other, such as economic reciprocity and arrangement of marriages (Weisner 1987). Siblings may play different roles in each other’s lives depending on the local goals for development. Different cultures define how siblings should interact with each other and with other relatives and neighbors; what resources, including both material and human, they should have individually; what should be shared among them; and how they should work and sleep (Weisner 1989, Whiting and Edwards 1988). All of these aspects of interaction are influenced by cultural values (Maynard and Tovote 2010).

  • Maynard, Ashley E., and Katrin E. Tovote. “Learning from Other Children.” In The Anthropology of Learning in Childhood. Edited by David F. Lancy, John Bock, and Suzanne Gaskins, 181–205. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira, 2010.

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    This chapter cites recent research on learning in sibling and peer interactions, largely from a cognitive and sociocultural point of view.

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  • Weisner, Thomas S. “Socialization for Parenthood in Sibling Caretaking Societies.” In Parenting across the Life Span: Biosocial Dimensions. Edited by Jane B. Lancaster, Jeanne Altmann, Alice S. Rossi, and Lonnie R. Sherrod, 237–270. Hawthorne, NY: Aldine, 1987.

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    Presents the aspects of the cultural place that are considered by ecocultural theory and research relevant to children and families.

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  • Weisner, Thomas S. “Comparing Sibling Relationships across Cultures.” In Sibling Interaction across Cultures: Theoretical and Methodological Issues. Edited by Patricia Goldring Zukow, 11–25. New York: Springer-Verlag, 1989.

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    This chapter shows that whether or not siblings are involved in sibling care or as playmates, siblings always matter.

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  • Whaley, Shannon E., Marian Sigman, Leila Beckwith, Sarale Cohen, and Michael Espinosa. “Infant–Caregiver Interaction in Kenya and the United States: The Importance of Multiple Caregivers and Adequate Comparison Samples.” Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology 33.3 (2002): 236–247.

    DOI: 10.1177/0022022102033003002Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A study of infant-caregiver interaction in Kenya and the United States. Results show that when all caregivers, including siblings, are taken into account, similarities between Kenyan and US cultures in styles of interacting with young infants become more apparent. Siblings are a part of the caregiving constellation.

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  • Whiting, Beatrice B., and Carolyn P. Edwards. Children of Different Worlds: The Formation of Social Behavior. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1988.

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    Based on the Six Cultures study(see Whiting and Whiting 1975, cited under Technological Cultures), this book extends the tradition of Beatrice Whiting and John Whiting. The book gives a good background on ecocultural theory. The book discusses socialization by parents and siblings of children at different ages.

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Who Is a Sibling?

Who counts as a sibling depends on the cultural place. In the United States, Europe, and other Western cultures, genetic siblings are defined as those people who share parents, and therefore, on average, 50 percent of their genetic material. The English language goes so far as to denote a special term for a step-sibling, who is the child of a spouse of one’s parent, conceived from another union. In this case no genes are shared. In many cultures of the world, people with less genetic material in common, such as aunts, uncles, cousins, and siblings-by-baptism, may be considered as important as genetic siblings. These siblings are sometimes called “classificatory siblings” by Western researchers to indicate a kinship category of children who may not be blood siblings of the same parents but who grow up as siblings in their regular interactions (Hecht 1983, Nuckolls 1993, Rubinstein 1983, Watson-Gegeo and Gegeo 1989, Wenger 1989). In some cultures, people who have these other genetic relations may be referred to as siblings and have the same obligations as blood-related siblings (Watson-Gegeo and Gegeo 1989, Zukow-Goldring 1995 [cited under General Overviews]). For example, in many Asiatic, Latin American, and Australian dialects there are kin terms that differentiate older and younger male and female siblings (Greenfield and Childs 1977). It is important for researchers interested in doing sibling research to find out who among a group are considered siblings, what their relationship entails, and what their future obligations might be to one another. Although there are cultural definitions about who is a sibling, many people who grow up together in childhood treat each other as siblings and avoid incest taboos (Lieberman 2009), though there is some disagreement in the literature regarding these assertions (Shor and Simchai 2009).

  • Greenfield, Patricia M., and Carla P. Childs. “Understanding Sibling Concepts: A Developmental Study of Kin Terms in Zinacantan.” In Piagetian Psychology: Cross-cultural Contributions. Edited by Pierre Dasen, 335–358. New York: Gardner, 1977.

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    Study traces the development of the ability of Zinacantec Maya children to properly refer to their siblings using the Tzotzil sibling terms. There are different words for brothers and sisters according to the sex of the children and their birth order.

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  • Hecht, J. A. “The Cultural Contexts of Siblingship in Pukapuka.” In Siblingship in Oceania: Studies in the Meaning of Kin Relations. Edited by Mac Marshall, 53–77. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1983.

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    In Pukapuka, siblings include the children of both parents’ biological siblings. In Pukapuka Atoll in Oceania, members of the same village or church would call each other taina (sibling) and rely on each other for support.

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  • Lieberman, Debra. “Rethinking the Taiwanese Minor Marriage Data: Evidence the Mind Uses Multiple Kindship Cues to Regulate Inbreeding Avoidance.” Evolution and Human Behavior 30.3 (2009): 153–160.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2008.11.003Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Asserts that children growing up in settings such as the Israeli Kibbutzim and Taiwanese minor marriages experience sexual aversion and provide a natural experiment for testing the effects of childhood association on adult sexual attraction. Age of coresidence and duration of coresidence regulate the development of sibling sexual aversions.

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  • Nuckolls, Charles W. “An Introduction to the Cross-cultural Study of Sibling Relations.” In Siblings in South Asia: Brothers and Sisters in Cultural Context. Edited by Charles W. Nuckolls, 19–41. New York: Guilford, 1993.

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    An important chapter on the research methods used in studying siblings, including ethnographic approaches.

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  • Rubinstein, Robert L. “Siblings in Malo Culture.” In Siblingship in Oceania: Studies in the Meaning of Kin Relations. Edited by Mac Marshall, 307–334. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1983.

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    A chapter that examines the Malo culture of the New Hebrides in Oceania, which counts as siblings those who are cousins of the same sex, the parent’s siblings of the same sex, and grandparents of the same sex.

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  • Shor, Eran, and Dalit Simchai. “Incest Avoidance, the Incest Taboo, and Social Cohesion: Revisiting Westermarck and the Case of the Israeli Kibbutzim.” American Journal of Sociology 114.6 (2009): 1803–1842.

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    The authors show that individuals who grew up in one kibbutzim’s communal education system were often attracted to their peers, and sexual aversion to these peers was rare. Introduces an argument that we must consider sociological factors when considering the problem of incest avoidance.

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  • Watson-Gegeo, Karen A., and David W. Gegeo. “The Role of Sibling Interaction in Child Socialization.” In Sibling Interaction across Cultures: Theoretical and Methodological Issues. Edited by Patricia Goldring Zukow, 54–76. New York: Springer-Verlag, 1989.

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    In Kwara’ae society in Micronesia, child caretakers play a bigger role than parents in introducing their younger siblings to cousins and other children they will have relationships with throughout their lives.

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  • Wenger, Martha. “Work, Play, and Social Relationships among Children in a Giriama Community.” In Children’s Social Networks and Social Supports. Edited by Deborah Belle, 91–115. New York: Wiley Interscience, 1989.

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    In the Giriama culture of Kenya, siblings include children from the same village or tribe who are in the same age range.

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Influences on Sibling Interactions

There have been many studies of sibling interactions and what influences the way siblings interact, beginning in infancy and continuing through the lifespan. There are differences between the West and other nations.

Western Cultures

Lamb 1978 explored the behavior of infants and their older siblings in a laboratory setting and found that children preferred to interact with their parents. Western parents tend to emphasize fairness in a family constellation where the parent–child relationship is more primary than the sibling relationship. Parents often look for ways to reduce sibling rivalry and foster positive sibling relationships (Mendelson 1990, Ross and Howe 2009, Stoneman and Brody 1993). Parents play a role in managing the sibling relationship through their treatment of the children. Siblings expect fair treatment from parents, and the model of relationships at home sets up children’s expectations for relationships with others (Ross and Howe 2009). Stoneman and Brody 1993 proposes a family systems model of sibling relations within the family context. In their study of American families, the authors find several variables important in fostering positive sibling relationships: direct parental behavior, which children imitate; parental discipline; intra-family differences in parenting as experienced by the siblings; and consistency of parenting strategies with all siblings. The focus here is on the parents trying to influence siblings to get along in an environment of fairness. Cicirelli 1995 discusses sibling relationships across the lifespan, from infancy through adulthood.

  • Cicirelli, Victor G. Sibling Relationships across the Lifespan. New York: Plenum, 1995.

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    Cicirelli outlines the factors that influence the sibling relationship, considering the sibling dyad alone, as well as in relation to the rest of the family. Information gleaned from studies of stepsiblings is included when possible. The author discusses sibling relationships from childhood through late adulthood.

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  • Lamb, Michael E. “Interactions between Eighteen-Month-Olds and Their Preschool-Aged Siblings.” Child Development 49.1 (1978): 51–59.

    DOI: 10.2307/1128592Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A laboratory study of infants and older siblings with their parents. Younger siblings paid more attention to the older children and were more likely to imitate their behavior or take over their toys than the reverse. Older children were more likely to offer toys and vocalize to their siblings than were the infants.

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  • Mendelson, Morton J. Becoming a Brother: A Child Learns about Life, Family, and Self. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 1990.

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    A lovely book that takes an ethnographic perspective on a young child’s development when a new sibling is born into his family.

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  • Ross, Hildy, and Nina Howe. “Family Influences on Children’s Peer Relationships: Social, Emotional, and Personality Development in Context.” In Handbook of Peer Interactions, Relationships, and Groups: Social, Emotional, and Personality Development in Context. Edited by Kenneth H. Rubin, William M. Bukowski, and Brett Laursen, 508–527. New York: Guilford, 2009.

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    A review chapter about family interactions by experts on sibling relationships. Sibling relationships are important, and the home context sets up expectations about how relationships will be outside the home.

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  • Stoneman, Zolinda, and Gene Brody. “Sibling Relations in the Family Context.” In The Effects of Mental Retardation, Disability, and Illness on Sibling Relationships: Research Issues and Challenges. Edited by Zolinda Stoneman and P. Waldman Berman, 3–30. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes, 1993.

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    This chapter presents a model of the family where parents positively influence the sibling relationship.

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Non-Western Cultures

In non-Western cultures the sibling relationship is often more primary than the parent–child relationship, and parents worry less about fostering positive sibling relationships, usually because the siblings work out their own relations rather well, without intervention from adults (see Martini 1994, Whiting and Edwards 1988 [cited under Ecocultural Theory and Siblings], and Zukow-Goldring 1995 [cited under General Overviews]). Abaluyia children of Kenya, for example, automatically seek siblings or other peers for support as much as or more than the mother (see Weisner 1987). This may be because mothers are working and children are accustomed to relying on each other for social support to a greater degree than their American counterparts.

  • Martini, Mary. “Peer Interactions in Polynesia: A View from the Marquesas.” In Children’s Play in Diverse Cultures. Edited by Jaipaul L. Roopnarine, James E. Johnson, and Frank H. Hooper, 73–103. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994.

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    A chapter in a volume on children’s play around the world. Focuses on peers in the Marquesas Islands, with an emphasis on siblings. Sibling socialized each other to become competent at managing stratified social roles, respecting the complex social hierarchy of Marquesan culture.

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  • Weisner, Thomas S. “Socialization for Parenthood in Sibling Caretaking Societies.” In Parenting across the Life Span: Biosocial Dimensions. Edited by James B. Lancaster, Jeanne Altmann, Alice S. Rossi, and Lonnie R. Sherrod, 237–270. Hawthorne, NY: Aldine, 1987.

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    A chapter in a book focusing on sibling caretaking among the Abaluyia, a group in Kenya where sibling caretaking is a prominent form of childcare.

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Presence of a New Sibling

Across cultures, sibling interactions are affected by parents’ presence, and having a sibling changes the way an earlier-born child interacts with the parents. However, the ways a new sibling changes the family relationships varies across cultures. Worldwide, young children aged two to four years tend to experience some jealousy of the new sibling, especially if they are being weaned to accommodate the new sibling—but the jealousy is managed in different ways. As children get older, parents intervene in children’s interactions to different degrees. In American homes, a mother’s presence has been found to reduce the quantity of sibling interactions (Pepler, et al. 1981). Kendrick and Dunn 1980 finds that the arrival of a second child affects the first child’s interactions with the mother in children growing up in England. When the mother was interacting with the new baby, there was an increase in confrontation and nurturance with the first child. When mothers were not busy with the new baby, there was a decrease in attention to the first child compared to before the birth. Howe and Ross 1990 finds that American sibling interactions were more negative when the mother paid attention to one child at the expense of the other. Attachment style may influence the effects of a new sibling on an earlier-born child’s distress. Securely attached infants were found to be less distressed by a mother’s attentiveness to a younger sibling than less securely attached infants (Teti, et al 1988). Briggs 1970 is a study of Eskimo child development that includes commentary on the emotional friction that arises when a new sibling is born.

  • Briggs, Jean. Never in Anger: Portrait of an Eskimo Family. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1970.

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    This is a seminal ethnography focusing on the emotional development of children and families, coming predominantly from eight different households.

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  • Howe, Nina, and Hildy S. Ross. “Socialization, Perspective-Taking, and the Sibling Relationship.” Developmental Psychology 26.1 (1990): 160–165.

    DOI: 10.1037/0012-1649.26.1.160Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Presents a study of thirty-two sibling pairs (fourteen months; three to five years) and their mothers, observed both at home and a modified lab. Older children’s positive references to siblings were positively associated with perspective-taking abilities and friendly sibling relations.

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  • Kendrick, Carol, and Judy Dunn. “Caring for Second Baby: Effects on Interaction between Mother and Firstborn.” Developmental Psychology 16.4 (1980): 303–311.

    DOI: 10.1037/0012-1649.16.4.303Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An observational study of forty families showing that mothers and first-borns had more conflicts and played less together after the birth of a sibling. When the mother was occupied with the second child, there was an increase in conflict but also in positive interactions between the mother and first child.

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  • Pepler, Debra J., Rona Abramovitch, and Carl Corter. “Sibling Interactions in the Home: A Longitudinal Study.” Child Development 52.4 (1981): 1344–1347.

    DOI: 10.2307/1129530Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A journal article reporting a study of sibling interactions across eighteen months.

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  • Teti, Douglas M., Lynne A. Bond, and Elizabeth D. Gibbs. “Mothers, Fathers, and Siblings: A Comparison of Play Styles and Their Influence upon Infant Cognitive Level.” International Journal of Behavioral Development 11.4 (1988): 415–432.

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    A journal article that compares mothers, fathers, and firstborn siblings on several types of experiences created for infants during dyadic play. The authors examine the relationship of these experiences to infant cognitive level.

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Sibling Caretaking

Sibling caretaking is a primary form of child care in many agrarian and traditional societies (Weisner and Gallimore 1977, Whiting and Edwards 1988 [cited under Ecocultural Theory and Siblings]). In the practice of sibling caretaking, older siblings are responsible for the care of their younger siblings. This care may range from keeping the child happy and entertained while an adult is within earshot, to feeding, bathing, and taking full responsibility for the child’s complete safety and well-being while the adult is away. Care by older siblings frees adult caretakers to perform subsistence tasks such as chores or other work. Sibling caretakers do more than just provide basic biological needs of their charges; they are effective socializers of each other (Rogoff 1991, Stewart 1983, Zukow-Goldring 1995 [cited under General Overviews]). Siblings benefit cognitively and socially from relying on each other (Hill 1991). The cross-cultural study of sibling caretaking has found many similarities in the practice, probably because of the similar development status of children who serve as sibling caretakers, but there are also cultural nuances (Rabain-Jamin, et al. 2003).

  • Hill, M. “The Role of Social Networks in the Care of Young Children.” In Growing Up in a Changing Society. Edited by Martin Woodhead, Paul Light, and Ronnie Carr, 97–114. London: Routledge, 1991.

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    A chapter that includes discussion of sibling interactions and the effects of sibling caretaking on children’s social and cognitive development.

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  • Rabain-Jamin, Jacqueline, Ashley E. Maynard, and Patricia M. Greenfield. “Implications of Sibling Caregiving for Sibling Relations and Teaching Interactions in Two Cultures.” Ethos 31.2 (2003): 204–231.

    DOI: 10.1525/eth.2003.31.2.204Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The authors use ethnographic data of sibling caretaking among the Wolof in Senegal and among the Maya of Mexico to show similarities and differences in sibling caretaking practices.

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  • Rogoff, Barbara. “The Joint Socialization of Development by Young Children and Adults.” In Social Influences and Socialization in Infancy. Edited by Michael Lewis and Saul Feinman, 253–280. New York: Plenum, 1991.

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    A chapter that includes discussion of ways that siblings socialize each other into social and cognitive skills.

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  • Stewart, Robert B. “Sibling Interaction: The Role of the Older Child as Teacher for the Younger.” Merrill Palmer Quarterly 29.1 (1983): 47–68.

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    Describes a lab study of preschool children, their mothers, and their infant siblings. Preschoolers were taught to use a toy camera and asked to teach their siblings. Children who were able to take the perspective of another were more active and thorough teachers.

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  • Weisner, Thomas S., and Ronald Gallimore. “My Brother’s Keeper: Child and Sibling Caretaking.” Current Anthropology 18.2 (1977): 169–190.

    DOI: 10.1086/201883Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The seminal article on sibling caretaking across cultures. The ability of sibling caretakers varies by ecocultural factors such as family subsistence. Sibling caretaking is related to child attachment, childhood stages of development, children’s play groups, and sex differences.

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Role of Adults

Adults in societies in which there is child caretaking do not consider that they are shirking their duties as caregivers (see Whiting and Edwards 1988 [cited under Ecocultural Theory and Siblings], Whittemore and Beverly 1989). Parents closely supervise sibling caretaking and typically give children increasingly complex tasks, initiating them into the role of child caretaker. The responsibilities that parents give to children reflect the children’s developing abilities and their interest in new babies. Children start to take more interest in younger children around the age of four (Weisner 1993), and most sibling caretakers range in age from five to ten years. This appears to be an affordance of evolution, given that natural birth spacing in nonindustrialized, hunter-gatherer societies is three to four years. As the older sibling is maturing, she (and sometimes he) will become quite interested in the infant, wanting to be more involved in its care. As the child matures cognitively and emotionally, he or she becomes ready to take care of younger siblings. Sibling caretakers exhibit many of the same behaviors as parents, showing that they have internalized cultural models for caretaking behaviors (Zukow 1989). While it appears that children who take the role of caretaker for a younger sibling are being prepared for adult roles (Essman 1977, Weisner 1987 [cited under Ecocultural Theory and Siblings]), adults do not always describe the delegation of caretaking and instruction in caretaking as training the child caretaker for a future parenting role (Whittemore and Beverly 1989).

  • Essman, Clifford S. “Sibling Relations as Socialization for Parenthood.” Family Coordinator 26.3 (1977): 259–262.

    DOI: 10.2307/583403Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An article that fully explains how sibling relations prepare children for the parental role.

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  • Weisner, Thomas S. “Ethnographic and Ecocultural Perspectives on Sibling Relationships.” In The Effects of Mental Retardation Disability, and Illness on Sibling Relationships: Research Issues and Challenges. Edited by Zolinda Stoneman and Paul W. Berman, 51–83. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes, 1993.

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    This chapter takes an ethnographic perspective on siblings and what is expected in different family situations, including sibling caretaking and families with a child with a disability.

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  • Whittemore, Robert D., and Elizabeth Beverly. “Trust in the Mandinka Way: The Cultural Context of Sibling Care.” In Sibling Interaction across Cultures: Theoretical and Methodological Issues. Edited by Patricia Goldring Zukow, 26–53. New York: Springer-Verlag, 1989.

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    A chapter discussing sibling care among the Mandinka of West Africa.

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  • Zukow, Patricia G. “Siblings as Effective Socializing Agents: Evidence from Central Mexico.” In Sibling Interaction across Cultures. Theoretical and Methodological Issues. Edited by Patricia Goldring Zukow, 79–105. New York: Springer-Verlag, 1989.

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    Shows how siblings gain skills in socializing each other as they develop from early to middle childhood. Both siblings and adult caretakers in Zukow’s Mexican and American samples used scaffolding in their interactions with young children, but sibling caretakers accommodated children more than adults did.

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Technological Cultures

Sibling caretaking relationships have also been studied in technological cultures, though the methods are quite different. Most studies in Europe and the United States have relied on questionnaire and behavioral inventory studies to inquire about sibling care (e.g., Bryant 1989). There have been a few ethnographic studies of sibling caretaking in technological cultures. Notable examples are the study of siblings in Orchard Town, a pseudonym for a community studied by Beatrice and John Whiting in their Six Cultures Study (Whiting and Whiting 1975), a study of African American working-class children (Ward 1971), and a study of children in South Carolina (Brice-Heath 1983). Further study of sibling interactions in activities, through a more ethnographic approach, would help to elucidate this important relationship.

  • Brice-Heath, Shirley. Ways with Words: Language, Life, and Work in Communities and Classrooms. New York: Oxford University Press, 1983.

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    A seminal book, often cited, that reports a ten-year “ethnography on the doorstep.” Brice-Heath discusses the effects of the preschool home and community environment on the learning of those language structures and uses that were needed in classrooms and job settings in the community.

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  • Bryant, Brenda. “The Child’s Perspective of Sibling Caretaking and Its Relevance to Understanding Social-Emotional Functioning and Development.” In Sibling Interaction across Cultures: Theoretical and Methodological Issues. Edited by Patricia Goldring Zukow, 143–164. New York: Springer-Verlag, 1989.

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    This chapter looks at how the sibling interactions relate to the parents’ caretaking interactions. Seven factors in caretaking practices were studied, including maternal and paternal factors, sibling nurturance, challenge, punishment, and concern. Quantitative results suggest a stronger effect of sibling interactions over parent–child interactions in social and emotional development.

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  • Ward, Martha. Them Children: A Study in Language Learning. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971.

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    A classic study of language socialization among black children. Shows how the school environment could be better tailored to poor African American children to help them learn better.

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  • Whiting, Beatrice B., and John W. M. Whiting. Children of Six Cultures: A Psycho-cultural Analysis. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1975.

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    The seminal volume on childhood across cultures. Presents a team study of the effect of learning environments on the social behavior of children. The authors studied nurturance, dependence, sociability, dominance, and aggression among children in Kenya, Okinawa, India, the Philippines, Mexico, and the United States.

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Traditional Cultures

Sibling caretaking is widely employed in Africa and in Latin America, and in more traditional, small-scale, face-to-face groups in Asia. Sibling caretaking is a pan-African practice in the care of young children. Ottenberg 1968 is a study of kinship among the Afikpo in Nigeria that includes discussions of sibling caretaking. Sibling caretaking is widely practiced in Latin America, especially among lower-class and indigenous groups. Rogoff, et al. 1993 studies the ways older siblings and caregivers guided the activities of younger children in the United States, Guatemala, India, and Turkey where children are engaged in the care of each other. Similarly, Rogoff 1981 shows how Guatemalan siblings socialize each other. Minks 2008 shows how Miskitu children in Nicaragua manage sibling groups as they learn how to negotiate hierarchies and following a dominant child. Lourdes de León has studied Zinacantec Maya siblings for many years(de León 2008). Her close studies of family interactions, including the study of siblings, show how children learn to cooperate and respect authority in the context of sibling care. Reynolds 2008 demonstrates sibling socialization in Guatemala. Martini and Kirkpatrick 1992 describes early sharing among children in the Marquesas Islands: by the age of three years Marquesan siblings share with each other freely. Broch 1990 is a study of the Bonerate in Indonesia that illustrates sibling caretaking as well.

Social and Emotional Development

Sibling interactions are a major arena for children to learn about social support and the social world more generally. Children need to figure out how other family members, and still others in the world outside of the home, will behave and respond in various situations. They also need to understand others’ feelings in order to behave appropriately. Sibling interactions are associated with aspects of prosocial behavior in both the family and school contexts in the preschool period (Dunn 1989). These capabilities may be fostered in sibling interactions (Dunn and Munn 1986). Siblings can help each other understand other people’s emotions, including internal mental states. Recchia and Howe 2009 found that siblings with high-quality relationships tend to have better conflict resolution skills, and Recchia and Howe 2008 shows that maternal influence plays a role in siblings’ socio-emotional development.

  • Dunn, Judy. “Siblings and the Development of Social Understanding in Early Childhood.” In Sibling Interaction across Cultures: Theoretical and Methodological Issues. Edited by Patricia Goldring Zukow, 106–116. New York: Springer-Verlag, 1989.

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    Discusses the social skills that siblings help each other develop. These include perspective taking, cooperation, and empathy.

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  • Dunn, Judy, and Penny Munn. “Siblings and the Development of Prosocial Behaviour.” International Journal of Behavioral Development 9 (1986): 265–284.

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    The researchers observed the frequency of sharing, helping, comforting, and cooperative behavior shown by young siblings toward one another in visits at home. Findings show toddlers were capable of sharing/helping/comforting but were rarely motivated to respond in this way. However, the siblings frequently cooperated.

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  • Recchia, Holly E., and Nina Howe. “Family Talk about Internal States and Children’s Relative Appraisals of Self and Sibling.” Social Development 17.4 (2008): 776–794.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9507.2007.00451.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Researchers investigated preschoolers’ naturalistic conversations about internal states and their spontaneous appraisals of self and sibling. This study shows how maternal involvement in sibling interactions helps children develop social skills such as perspective taking.

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  • Recchia, Holly E., and Nina Howe. “Associations between Social Understanding, Sibling Relationship Quality, and Siblings’ Conflict Strategies and Outcomes.” Child Development 80.5 (2009): 1564–1578.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.2009.01351.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Siblings were observed discussing conflicts at home or at a university lab setting. Researchers found that high-quality sibling relationships were associated with positive conflict resolution processes. Links between social understanding and conflict behavior should be considered in conjunction with the quality of children’s relationships.

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Development of Perspective Taking and Theory of Mind

Interacting with siblings enhances children’s social perspective taking (Lewis, et al. 1996; Perner, et al. 1994; Ruffman, et al. 1998). Lewis, et al. 1996 finds that children who interacted with an extended kin network, including multiple siblings, were precocious in their acquisition of false belief compared with children who interacted with a more limited kin group. In their studies in Japan and England, Perner and his colleagues found that the more siblings a child has, the more likely he is to understand the classic false-belief task–that is, children with more siblings have a better understanding that others may hold beliefs that are actually false relative to the true state of the world, and that beliefs may change according to changes in the world. At least one study has found that having a younger sibling does not appear to influence children’s performance on the false-belief task (Perner, et al. 1994). On the other hand, Peterson 2000 finds that having younger siblings does lead to advanced theory of mind development for the older siblings.

  • Lewis, Charlie, Norman H. Freeman, Chrystalla Kyriakidou, Katerina Maridaki-Kassotaki, and Damon Berridge. “Social Influences on False Belief Access: Specific Sibling Influences or General Apprenticeship?” Child Development 67 (1996): 2930–2947.

    DOI: 10.2307/1131760Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A series of quasi-experimental protocols shows that having more adult kin available and more older siblings, not to mention interacting with more older children, regularly influenced theory of mind development.

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  • Perner, Josef, Ted Ruffman, and Susan R. Leekam. “Theory of Mind is Contagious: You Catch It from Your Sibs.” Child Development 65.4 (1994): 1228–1238.

    DOI: 10.2307/1131316Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The authors used a quasi-experimental design to show that children from larger families were better able to predict a story character’s mistaken (false-belief-based) action than children from smaller families. In a second quasi-experimental protocol, children with only one sibling failed to show any earlier understanding of belief.

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  • Peterson, Candida C. “Kindred Spirits: Influence of Siblings’ Perspectives on Theory of Mind.” Cognitive Development 15.4 (2000): 435–455.

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    Peterson found that having younger siblings or a twin was just as helpful as having older siblings in the development of theory of mind. Having multiple siblings both younger and older than the child also predicted advanced theory of mind development.

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  • Ruffman, Ted, Josef Perner, Mika Naito, Linda Parkin, and Wendy A. Clements. “Older (but Not Younger) Siblings Facilitate False Belief Understanding.” Developmental Psychology 34.1 (1998): 161–174.

    DOI: 10.1037/0012-1649.34.1.161Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Reports results from four experiments with English and Japanese children. Analyses show no beneficial effect of having younger siblings.

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Cognitive Development

Interacting with siblings also has influences on a child’s cognitive development. As with social development, most cognitive benefits of interacting with siblings are not unidirectional. Interacting with siblings increases cognitive functioning for both parties involved (see Cicirelli 1975 and Steward and Steward 1976 [cited under Sibling Teaching]). Children may display cognitive capacities earlier with their siblings than with other peers or adults or when they are alone (Azmitia and Hesser 1993).

  • Azmitia, Margarita, and Joanne Hesser. “Why Siblings Are Important Agents of Cognitive Development: A Comparison of Siblings and Peers.” Child Development 64 (1993): 430–444.

    DOI: 10.2307/1131260Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An article in which the authors compared sibling-versus-peer influence on children’s cognitive development. Younger children were more likely to observe their older siblings than older peers. Younger children also asked for more help from their older siblings than their older peers.

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  • Cicirelli, Victor G. “Effects of Mother and Older Sibling on the Problem-Solving Behavior of the Younger Child.” Developmental Psychology 11.6 (1975): 749–756.

    DOI: 10.1037/0012-1649.11.6.749Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Reports the effects of aid from the mother or older sibling on the focal child’s problem-solving behavior. Subjects with older brothers performed as well alone as they did after receiving aid from sibling or mother, whereas subjects with older sisters showed more advanced problem solving after receiving aid from sibling or mother.

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Cognitive Aspects of Perspective Taking

Perspective taking involves understanding the point of view of another person. Sibling nurturance has been found to predict American children’s later social perspective taking (Bryant 1987) and to affect children’s school behaviors and adjustment (Gallimore, et al. 1978; Weisner, et al. 1988). Positive sibling relations are related to perspective-taking skills of the older child (see Howe and Ross 1990, cited under Presence of a New Sibling). If the older child can appropriately assess the younger child’s point of view or desires, sibling relations may be more positive. However, perspective taking may not be necessary for children to respond appropriately to a child’s needs. Although on the surface it seems necessary to take the perspective of a sibling in distress in order to respond appropriately, Howe and Ross 1990 finds that sibling response to distress was related to the intensity of the younger sibling’s distress and not to perspective-taking abilities. It may be that early attention to distress leads to the development of perspective-taking abilities at a cognitive level as children try to meet the needs of their younger siblings more efficiently and sensitively.

  • Bryant, Brenda. “Mental Health, Temperament, Family, and Friends: Perspectives on Children’s Empathy and Social Perspective Taking.” In Empathy and Its Development. Edited by Nancy Eisenberg and Janet Strayer, 245–270. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

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    The author aims to clarify distinctions in the field between social perspective taking and empathy and provides a foundation for a formulation regarding the development of these two aspects of social-emotional development. She emphasizes child characteristics and the interpersonal experiences of the child.

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  • Gallimore, Ronald, Roland G. Tharp, and Gisela E. Speidel. “The Relationship of Sibling Caretaking and Attentiveness to a Peer Tutor.” American Educational Research Journal 15.2 (1978): 267–273.

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    Correlates ethnographic measures of sibling caretaking with attentiveness to a peer tutor at school. Overall, family reliance on sibling caretaking correlated with generalized classroom attentiveness and general (non-sibling-care) chore demands at home.

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  • Weisner, Thomas S., Ronald Gallimore, and Cathie Jordan. “Unpackaging Cultural Effects on Classroom Learning: Native Hawaiian Peer Assistance and Child-Generated Activity.” Anthropology and Education Quarterly 19.4 (1988): 327–353.

    DOI: 10.1525/aeq.1988.19.4.05x0915eSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    From the Kamehameha Early Education Program, the researchers summarize a series of observational and interview studies of sibling caretaking and peer assistance in Native Hawaiian contexts. To reduce home-school discontinuities, the data suggest that classrooms need to appropriate selected features of natal culture activity settings.

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Sibling Teaching

Siblings can be especially effective teachers of their younger siblings because they are related, emotionally close, and close together in age. Older siblings teach their younger siblings to do everyday kinds of things (Maynard 2002). Older siblings may accrue advantages in cognitive functioning from teaching their younger siblings (Meisner and Fisher 1980), and younger siblings receive the benefits of guidance. Sibling teaching at home may be affected by the models of teaching children are exposed to at school (Maynard 2004). The scope of research on sibling teaching is increasing. Dunn and Kendrick 1979 mentions noticing older siblings teaching and caring for their younger siblings, but they do not describe these interactions. Most studies have focused on one age, usually a sibling teacher aged six and a target child aged eighteen months to four years. One recent study of young children’s semantic development compared a six-year-old sibling’s approach to teaching with that of mothers in a picture categorization task (Perez-Granados and Callanan 1997). Mothers labeled categories and objects more than siblings. The target children, age four, labeled more objects and categories themselves when they were working with their mothers than they did when working with their siblings. Most studies of sibling teaching have been conducted in laboratory settings (e.g., Cicirelli 1972, Stewart 1983), with protocols designed for experimental control but perhaps lacking in ecological validity. Some researchers have studied sibling interaction in children’s home environments (e.g., Lamb 1978, cited under Western Cultures). Quasi-experimental or observational studies at home have indicated that children use their social and cognitive skills to teach each other. Researchers have found that sibling age spacing and the quality of their relationships affect teaching interactions (Howe and Recchia 2009; Recchia, et al. 2009). Maynard 2002 used ethnographic video data to examine the development of sibling teaching in the context of caretaking interactions. Older siblings aged three to eleven years were observed as they engaged their younger, two-year-old siblings in everyday activities. The oldest sibling caretakers, aged eight to eleven, were able to structure tasks, provide necessary materials, simplify tasks into doable parts, guide the bodies of learners, and provide both verbal and nonverbal feedback to help their youngest siblings do a task.

  • Cicirelli, Victor. “The Effect of Sibling Relationship of Concept Learning of Young Children Taught by Child-Teachers.” Child Development 43 (1972): 282–287.

    DOI: 10.2307/1127894Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In this quasi-experimental study, older children learned a concept and then taught a younger child who was either a sibling or not a sibling. Female siblings were more effective teachers than male siblings or female non-siblings.

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  • Dunn, Judy, and Carol Kendrick. “Interaction between Young Siblings in the Context of Family Relationships.” In The Child and Its Family. Edited by Michael Lewis and Lewis A. Rosenblum, 143–168. New York: Plenum, 1979.

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    The authors describe sibling interactions in the home. They mention that older siblings teach and care for younger siblings, but they do not describe these interactions (as this was not the focus of their study).

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  • Howe, Nina, and Holly Recchia. “Individual Differences in Sibling Teaching in Early and Middle Childhood.” Early Education and Development 20.1 (2009): 174–197.

    DOI: 10.1080/10409280802206627Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This quasi-experimental pair of studies indicates that siblings adjust their teaching based on the age of the learner, and positive interaction between siblings is associated with teaching and learning behaviors over time.

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  • Maynard, Ashley E. “Cultural Teaching: The Development of Teaching Skills in Zinacantec Maya Sibling Interactions.” Child Development 73.3 (2002): 969–982.

    DOI: 10.1111/1467-8624.00450Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An article charting the development of teaching skills in Maya sibling interactions.

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  • Maynard, Ashley E. “Cultures of Teaching in Childhood: Formal Schooling and Maya Sibling Teaching at Home.” Cognitive Development 19.4 (2004): 517–536.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.cogdev.2004.09.005Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This article discusses how going to school changes the way that siblings teach younger children at home. Children who have been to school teach more from a distance and give more evaluations than children who have not been to school.

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  • Meisner, Joan S., and Virginia L. Fisher. “Cognitive Shifts of Young Children as a Function of Peer Interaction and Sibling Status.” Journal of Genetic Psychology 136 (1980): 247–253.

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    Primary-school children were assigned to solitary or peer-dyad game play (same grade and sex) or no-game groups, based on their sibling status (older sibling versus youngest or only child). Results indicate that playing the game with a peer resulted in significant gains.

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  • Perez-Granados, Deanne R., and Maureen A. Callanan. “Conversations with Mothers and Siblings: Young Children’s Semantic and Conceptual Development.” Developmental Psychology 33.1 (1997): 120–134.

    DOI: 10.1037/0012-1649.33.1.120Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The authors compare teaching and learning measures of mother–child and sibling dyads playing a picture categorization game. Mothers provided information so children made choices on their own, and siblings were more directive. Mothers gave more labels for objects and categories than did siblings.

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  • Recchia, Holly E., Nina Howe, and Stephanie Alexander. “‘You Didn’t Teach Me, You Showed Me’: Variations in Sibling Teaching Strategies in Early and Middle Childhood.” Merrill-Palmer Quarterly: Journal of Developmental Psychology 55.1 (2009): 55–78.

    DOI: 10.1353/mpq.0.0016Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This quasi-experimental study examined siblings’ teaching strategies in dyads of firstborns and second-borns. Researchers varied dyad age, age gap between siblings, and teacher birth order. One child per dyad was randomly assigned to be the teacher. Shows how teaching improves with age.

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  • Steward, Margaret, and David Steward. “Parents and Siblings as Teachers.” In Behavior Modification Approaches to Parenting. Edited by E. J. Marsh, L. C. Dandy, and L. A. Hamerlynck, 193–210. New York: Brunner/Mazel, 1976.

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    This is an experimental study comparing how parents and siblings teach children a task. The authors suggest that the simpler instructions provided by child teachers may be more appropriate and make the task easier for preschool learners than the more complicated instructions provided by adults.

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Language Development

Language is a powerful tool in the socialization of children. Parents and other socializing agents, such as sibling caretakers, express linguistic and cultural knowledge to indicate the appropriate behavior expected of children as they get involved in cultural practices (Ochs 1982). Even very young children—two- and three-year-olds—adjust their speech to infants (Dunn and Kendrick 1982). In her many studies of language socialization, Patricia Zukow has outlined the form and function of linguistic interactions in early child development (Zukow-Goldring and Ferko 1994, Zukow-Goldring 1997). Among populations in the United States and Central Mexico, Zukow finds that Euro-American and Latino caregivers use rich linguistic interactions to socialize children’s language. They revise their own miscomprehended speech utterances in order to engage infants in the events of the moment. Both adult and sibling caregivers are adept at coordinating verbal and nonverbal discourse in order to help children understand what is happening. These interactions lead to close involvement in activities. For example, Zukow 1989 (cited under Role of Adults) describes the ways in which Mexican adult and child caretakers facilitate comprehension of young children. In Africa, Melanesia, and Samoa, triadic conversations may also involve a present third part, where the mother, older sibling, and infant participate together in language socialization practices (Ochs 1988, Rabain-Jamin 1994, Schieffelin 1990 [cited under Language Socialization of Caretaking Skills], Watson-Gegeo and Gegeo 1989 [cited under Who Is a Sibling?]). In these interactions, mothers engage younger and older siblings to help the two understand others’ perspectives emotionally and cognitively. Children also learn to take other perspectives in the course of these triadic interactions. Controlled studies could help determine whether this kind of training leads to earlier perspective-taking and empathy skills in these children. In the United States, older siblings have been found to adjust their speech to younger infants (Shatz and Gelman 1973 and Dunn and Kendrick 1982), using “motherese” when speaking with babies. Zukow-Goldring 1997 explains that the higher pitch, exaggerated speech contours, slower tempo, and simplified utterances of this speech register enhance sibling and adult caregivers’ socialization of attention. In their interactions, siblings help each other manage emotions and social relationships.

  • Dunn, Judy, and Carol Kendrick. “The Speech of Two- and Three-Year-Olds to Infant Siblings: “Baby Talk” and the Context of Communication.” Journal of Child Language 9 (1982): 579–597.

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    The authors examined adjustments in speech made by two- to three-year-olds when talking to their fourteen-month-old siblings and compared them with those made by mothers addressing their babies.

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  • Ochs, Elinor. “Talking to Children in Western Samoa.” Language in Society 11 (1982): 77–104.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0047404500009040Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An early cross-cultural article on how Samoans talk to children. Samoans believe that infants don’t understand and can’t talk back, so they do not treat infants as conversational partners.

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  • Ochs, Elinor. Culture and Language Development: Language Acquisition and Socialization in a Samoan Village. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 1988.

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    This is a widely cited study of language socialization that includes information about sibling interactions. Siblings participate with their mothers in helping younger children learn how to understand other perspectives.

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  • Rabain-Jamin, Jacqueline. “Language and Socialization of the Child in African Families Living in France.” In Cross-cultural Roots of Minority Child Development. Edited by Patricia M. Greenfield and Rodney Cocking, 147–166. Edison, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1994.

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    This is a study of language socialization of African immigrants living in France. Shows that African mothers use traditional forms of language interactions.

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  • Shatz, Marilyn, and Rochel Gelman. The Development of Communication Skills: Modifications in the Speech of Young Children as a Function of Listener. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development 38.5. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1973.

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    One of the early studies showing how young children adjusted their speech to toddlers.

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  • Zukow-Goldring, Patricia. “A Social Ecological Realist Approach to the Emergence of the Lexicon: Educating Attention to Amodal Invariants in Gesture and Speech.” In Evolving Explanations of Development: Ecological Approaches to Organism-Environment Systems. Edited by Cathy Dent-Read and Patricia Zukow-Goldring, 199–250. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 1997.

    DOI: 10.1037/10265-000Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A chapter by a leading sibling researcher; careful analysis of interactions and shows how the style of “motherese” that parents and siblings use is part of the socialization of infants’ attention.

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  • Zukow-Goldring, Patricia, and Kelly R. Ferko. “An Ecological Approach to the Emergence of the Lexicon: Socializing Attention.” In Sociocultural Approaches to Language and Literacy. An Interactionist Perspective. Edited by Vera John-Steiner, Carolyn P. Panofsky, and Larry W. Smith, 170–190. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511897047Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The authors investigate how the lexicon emerges as caregivers direct infants’ attention to particularly salient aspects of events.

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Language Socialization of Caretaking Skills

Caretaking behaviors are encouraged in many different kinds of linguistic interactions with children. Harkness 1977 finds that mothers and child caretakers in East African Kipsigis society explain concepts and situations and repeat utterances to young children. The Kaluli, a people in Papua-New Guinea, use a term to elicit empathy in their children; adults also appeal to children to elicit feelings of compassion in them (Schieffelin 1990). Give-and-take and sharing is very important in Kaluli society, and children are socialized from a very early age, with verbal and nonverbal instruction in these behaviors. Girls and boys are differentially socialized in Kaluli society; mothers are more accommodating with boys and “abrupt” with daughters. Infant girls are urged to attend to what is happening outside the mother–child dyad and in the surrounding social environment. This is training for girls’ future roles as mothers and reflects a concern for others. Boys and, more often, girls are faced outward to see what the mother is seeing and to see things from her perspective. Sibling caregivers learn to elicit sharing and empathy and to face children outward in the same manner as adults.

  • Harkness, Sarah. “Aspects of Social Environment and First Language Acquisition in Rural Africa.” In Talking to Children: Language Input and Acquisition. Edited by Catherine E. Snow and Charles E. Ferguson, 309–326. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1977.

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    This study of language acquisition includes both mothers and sibling caretakers. Siblings explain ideas and situations for young children to help them understand and participate appropriately.

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  • Schieffelin, Bambi B. The Give and Take of Everyday Life: Language Socialization of Kaluli Children. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

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    This is a seminal study of language socialization among the Kaluli of Papua-New Guinea. This important study includes parents’ and children’s socialization of young children and shows how siblings are very adept at helping younger children understand social situations.

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Siblings at Play

Play can be a very powerful engine for sibling interactions. In a Vygotskian view, play is a way for the child to deal with real-life situations. Interacting with siblings and peers in play helps children take on roles and participate in cultural practices. Older siblings often structure younger children’s play (see Gaskins 1996, Gaskins 1999, and Minks 2008 [cited under Traditional Cultures]). Zukow 1986 uses ethnographic data to demonstrate that play with siblings was significantly more advanced than play with adult caregivers. Many studies have examined the effect of the mother’s presence on sibling play. Howe and Bruno 2010 finds that the presence of mothers had an inhibitory impact on the frequency of sibling pretend play.

  • Gaskins, Suzanne. “How Mayan Parental Theories Come into Play.” In Parents’ Cultural Belief Systems. Edited by Sarah Harkness and Charles Super, 345–363. New York: Guilford, 1996.

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    Discusses how the beliefs of Yucatec Maya parents affect children’s routines, including the fact that children’s play is not a widely supported activity.

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  • Gaskins, Suzanne. “Children’s Daily Lives in a Mayan Village: A Case Study of Culturally Constructed Roles and Activities.” In Children’s Engagement in the World: Sociocultural Perspectives. Edited by Artin Göncü, 25–61. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

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    A chapter that discusses how principles of Yucatec Maya child development affect children’s daily routines. The principles are primacy of adult work activities, the importance of parental cultural beliefs in structuring the children’s activities, and the independence of Mayan children’s motivation.

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  • Howe, Nina, and Andrew Bruno. “Sibling Pretend Play in Early and Middle Childhood: The Role of Creativity and Maternal Context.” Early Education and Development 21.6 (2010): 940–962.

    DOI: 10.1080/10409280903440638Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An observational study in a laboratory of mothers’ influence on sibling play. Researchers found that the presence of mothers inhibited the amount of pretend play and the creativity of the children’s scenarios. Mothers did not get actively involved in the children’s play.

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  • Zukow, Patricia Goldring. “The Relationship between Interaction with the Caregiver and the Emergence of Play Activities During the One-Word Period.” British Journal of Developmental Psychology 4 (1986): 223–234.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.2044-835X.1986.tb01014.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Zukow takes a Vygotskian approach to examine the relationship between interaction with the caregiver and the emergence of play activities with infants who were at three levels of semantic development during the one-word period. Interaction promoted advanced performance.

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Sibling Conflict

Siblings may experience conflict as they negotiate for resources or attention at home. Sibling rivalry is often an expectation in Western families, but it is not a universal phenomenon. Volling, et al. 2010 reviews sibling rivalry from a Western, lifespan perspective. Recchia and Howe 2010 examines sibling conflict and resolution in the context of the family.

  • Recchia, Holly E., and Nina Howe. “When Do Siblings Compromise? Associations with Children’s Descriptions of Conflict Issues, Culpability, and Emotions.” Social Development 19.4 (2010): 838–857.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9507.2009.00567.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This is a quasi-experimental study comparing children’s descriptions of past sibling conflicts and their resolutions during a structured negotiation task. Children were more likely to compromise when conflicts involved physical harm and children reported feeling sadness during their fights.

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  • Volling, Brenda L., Denise E. Kennedy, and Linda M. H. Jackey. “The Development of Sibling Jealousy.” In Handbook of Jealousy: Theory, Research, and Multidisciplinary Approaches. Edited by Sybil L. Hart and Maria Legerstee, 387–417. New York: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010.

    DOI: 10.1002/9781444323542Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The authors review sibling rivalry and jealousy in the Western family context. They take a lifespan approach and examine the ways that parents affect the sibling relationship and the development of jealousy.

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Clinical Perspectives

There are also researchers working within clinical fields who are interested in sibling interactions. Two prominent areas relate to what it is like to have a sibling with a disability and how to use information about the developmental environment shared and not shared by siblings to aid clinical practice.

The Sibling Relationship When One Child is Disabled

Families where a sibling has a disability have to adapt to daily routines in different ways (see Weisner 1987, cited under Ecocultural Theory and Siblings). Having a good relationship with a sibling can help children’s behavior issues and also their cognitive and social development (Floyd, et al. 2009). Effects of having an older sibling can be positive or negative, as O’Brien, et al. 2011 concludes.

  • Floyd, Frank J., Susan E. Purcell, Shana S. Richardson, Janis B. Kupersmidt, and Leonard Abbeduto. “Sibling Relationship Quality and Social Functioning of Children and Adolescents with Intellectual Disability.” American Journal on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities 114.2 (2009): 110–127.

    DOI: 10.1352/2009.114.110-127Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    There were fewer behavior problems for children with developmental delays when they had warm sibling relationships characterized by positive affect. Warmth and conflict both predicted greater social competence for children with delays.

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  • O’Brien, Karen, Virginia Slaughter, and Candida C. Peterson. “Sibling Influences on Theory of Mind Development for Children with ASD.” Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 52.6 (2011): 713–719.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1469-7610.2011.02389.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Contrary to the situation with typically developing children, for children with autism spectrum disorder, having an older sibling was a disadvantage for theory of mind development.

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Sibling Relationships and Clinical Practice

Developmental experiences together, including gene-environment interactions, relevant to the sibling relationship can be useful in clinical practice (Asbury, et al. 2006). Siblings typically share a home environment for some period of time, but they only share 50 percent of their genes, and there are aspects of the home environment that are not the same across siblings. Understanding the sibling relationship can help those in the healing professions in the care and treatment of patients (Freeman 1993). Researchers have shown that the non-shared environment, including the perceived non-shared environment, affects the differential development of both problematic and adaptive behaviors across siblings in both internalizing and externalizing disorders (Keller, et al. 2006; Lehoux and Howe 2007; Mullineaux, et al. 2009).

  • Asbury, Kathryn, Judy Dunn, and Robert Plomin. “The Use of Discordant MZ Twins to Generate Hypotheses Regarding Non-shared Environmental Influence on Anxiety in Middle Childhood.” Social Development 15.3 (2006): 564–570.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9507.2006.00356.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Article illustrating aspects of the non-shared environment that may influence the development of anxiety, including neonatal life events, parent–child relationships, and peer rejection.

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  • Freeman, Edith M. Family Treatment: The Sibling Bond and Other Relationship Issues. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas, 1993.

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    Freeman analyzes research on sibling relationships across the lifespan. The book takes a point of view that will be useful to nurses, social workers, and other mental health professionals as it focuses on early experiences in the family and how those experiences may affect a person later in life.

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  • Keller, Kathleen L., Angelo Pietrobelli, Susan L. Johnson, and Myles S. Faith. “Maternal Restriction of Children’s Eating and Encouragements to Eat as the ‘Non-shared Environment’: A Pilot Study Using the Child Feeding Questionnaire.” International Journal of Obesity 30.11 (2006): 1670–1675.

    DOI: 10.1038/sj.ijo.0803318Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Within-family differences in maternal feeding attitudes may be part of the non-shared environment of siblings. Whether or not maternal feeding practices are shared or non-shared components of the home environment depends on the specific feeding domain being measured.

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  • Lehoux, Pascale M., and Nina Howe. “Perceived Non-shared Environment, Personality Traits, Family Factors and Developmental Experiences in Bulimia Nervosa.” British Journal of Clinical Psychology 46.1 (2007): 47–66.

    DOI: 10.1348/014466506X111285Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Sisters with and without bulimia nervosa were compared for perceived non-shared environmental factors, individual personality traits, and psychopathology. Researchers found that perceived non-shared risk factors and personality traits distinguished women with bulimia from their sisters.

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  • Mullineaux, Paula Y., Kirby Deater-Deckard, Stephen A. Petrill, and Lee Thompson. “Parenting and Child Behaviour Problems: A Longitudinal Analysis of Non-shared Environment.” Infant and Child Development 18.2 (2009): 133–148.

    DOI: 10.1002/icd.593Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This study examined non-shared environmental processes in internalizing and externalizing problems in identical twins in middle childhood. Researchers found that differential maternal warmth and negativity are important influences on the differential development of problematic and adaptive behaviors in middle childhood.

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LAST MODIFIED: 03/23/2012

DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780199791231-0032

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