Can Siblings Improve A Child’s Development?

A child’s ability to understand that people can have different desires, knowledge, and beliefs as well as actions being often a product of these mental states is known as Theory-of-Mind (ToM).

The understanding of the Theory-of-Mind (ToM) is closely related to the quality of #sibling #relationships as well as parent-child relationships. Usually, 6-year-olds understand the basics "ToM". However, there exist individual differences which are greatly indicated by the relationships inside the family.

When a sibling is born, there is reported a sharp increase in children’s discussions of the self and others; for example, the baby. Therefore, the arrival of a baby sibling might have a potential impact on children’s social-cognitive understanding. Children's reaction to the arrival of a baby sibling differ individually based on the children’s temperament and social understanding.

The sibling relationship is a powerful socializing context for children’s Theory-of-Mind (ToM) development for both older and younger siblings in a number of ways. For example, a better understanding of Theory-of-Mind (ToM) is seen in the children involved in more positive sibling interactions, such as cooperative or joint pretend to play.


When children engage in cooperative interactions with an older sibling in toddlerhood, they are more likely to outperform their peers on Theory-of-Mind (ToM) tasks during the preschool years. Children are also more likely to discuss roles, co-construct fantasy scenes, and use mental-state language during episodes of joint pretend play with their siblings.

When mothers referred to the infant as a person and emphasized the joint responsibility of the mother and child in caring for the infant during the first weeks after the birth, children show positive interest in and affection towards their infant sibling. Therefore, focusing the conversations on the child and the infant may be helpful to positive sibling interactions, as well as a social-cognitive understanding of others’ emotions and minds.

On the other side, the conflict between siblings can contribute to children's understanding of others’ emotions and minds and Theory-of-Mind development.

Sibling antagonism at 8 months can negatively predict Theory-of-Mind at 12 months, but only when mothers use low levels of child-centred discipline in response to children’s misbehaviour.

Sibling relationship quality and Theory-of-Mind are bidirectional relations. Children’s Theory-of-Mind understanding contributes to better sibling relationship quality, as well as sibling interactions provides a rich social environment in which young children develop social-cognitive awareness.

Source: Theory-of-Mind Development and Early Sibling Relationships after the Birth of a Sibling: Parental Discipline Matters.
Ju-Hyun Song 2018
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