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Most of us believe that a child who has an older brother or sister will grow up in a stimulating linguistic environment and will develop their language skills faster than the family's firstborn. Right?

However, several studies have shown the opposite might be true: the acquisition of language in a child with an older sibling is reported to be slower than a child who has none.

What is even more surprising is that apparently only older brothers impact the language skills of their younger siblings, as a study conducted by a research team from the CNRS, the AP-HP, the EHESS, the ENS and the INSERM has just shown.ย 

The study finds that children who have grown up with an elder sister have identical development to children with no elder sibling. Isnโ€™t that fascinating? 

How was the study conducted?

For the study, more than one thousand children have been followed from birth to 5.5 years old in the mother-child cohort at the EDEN facility. 

Their language skills were evaluated at 2, 3 and 5.5 years old by tests measuring several aspects of language, such as vocabulary, syntax (sentence structure) and verbal reasoning.ย 

Children who have an elder brother had on average a two-month delay in language development compared with children with an older sister.

Why This Result?

The scientists propose two theories that may explain this result. 

  1. The first is that older sisters, in being more willing to talk to their younger siblings than brothers, may compensate for their parents being less available. This means that the older sister is more willing to jump in and play with her brother when the parents are busy.
  2. Another hypothesis would be that elder sisters compete less than elder brothers for parental attention.

Though this study cannot separate these two hypotheses, it does show that early language development in a younger sibling tends to be slower when the older is a boy. 

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My Experience

From my experience as an older sister, therapist and a mother to two children, the oldest of which is a girl, I can tell you that the research findings are very accurate. 

My daughter is wonderful when it comes to talking to my son and interacting with him when my husband and I are busy (especially now since we are working from home). Theย  more she interacts with him, the more I see him learning and trying to keep up with her!

As an older sister, I was the same when it came to nurturing and playing with my brother. 

The Benefits

The benefits of having an older sibling are astounding! The older child can show by example, provide support, play/entertain the younger child when we are busy, and can teach moral values, such as right and wrong. 

I find that younger siblings also teach the older siblings things, as well! As I watch my son grow and interact with his older sister, I can tell you that he is most definitely teaching her all about sharing! When he was little, she could take his toys and play with them and he wouldnโ€™t know the difference. Now? He knows when she takes a toy from him and clearly protests!

Brother and Newborn Sibling

The older child can show by example, provide support, play/entertain when we are busy and teach moral values.

This protesting is an early form of communication! It might just be a scream or cry, but thatโ€™s him communicating that he is upset with the fact that she did something that he doesnโ€™t agree with!

Whatโ€™s Next

For their next project, the scientists want to examine the impact of culture (specifically geographical origin) on these results.

We already know that culture plays a huge role in children and what they learn. Scientists are very curious if being raised in culturally diverse households would have the same impact on older brothers and their influence on speech and language development!

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