Big or Little, Sisters Help Ward off Depression

Filed under: Siblings, In The News, Research Reveals: Toddlers & Preschoolers, Research Reveals: Big Kids, Social & Emotional Growth: Tweens, Research Reveals: Tweens, Social & Emotional Growth: Teens, Research Reveals: Teens

Sisters Serena and Venus Williams are partners on and off the court. Credit: Anja Niedringhaus/AP

She may be bossy or annoying and she might steal your clothes, but having a sister, whether older or younger, helps kids ward off the blues.

A recent study on the impact of siblings showed that kids between the ages of 10 and 14 were less likely to feel unloved, guilty, lonely, self-conscious or fearful if they have a sister. That was true regardless of how far apart the kids were in age.

"Even after you account for parents' influence, siblings do matter in unique ways," the study's lead author, Laura Padilla-Walker, a professor at Brigham Young University School of Family Life, says in a statement. "They give kids something that parents don't."

It's not just sisters who count. Having a loving sibling of either gender promoted good deeds and charitable attitudes such as helping a neighbor or watching out for other kids at school -- twice as strongly as having a loving parent did.

"For parents of younger kids, the message is to encourage sibling affection," Padilla-Walker says in the statement. "Once they get to adolescence, it's going to be a big protective factor."

Fighting matters -- hostility was associated with a greater risk of delinquency, the researchers found -- but less than the positive emotions.

"An absence of affection seems to be a bigger problem than high levels of conflict," Padilla-Walker says.

And, on the upside, arguing can give kids a chance to learn how to resolve problems and control their emotions, the study, to be published in the Journal of Family Psychology, says.

Padilla-Walker looked at nearly 400 families in which there was more than one child and at least one adolescent between 10 and 14 years old. She and her colleagues gathered information about each family, and followed up a year later.

Related: Siblings Have As Much Effect On Children As Parents?

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.