I come from a family of five: two parents, three daughters. My sisters were older than me and, therefore, much cooler. My earliest memories are of following them around, begging to be involved in their games.
Now my husband and I have just one child. And the inevitable question gets asked of us… ‘Are you going to give her a little brother or sister?’
Research suggests that having a sibling is really good for children, especially in terms of emotional and social development. Kids with brothers and sisters naturally learn sharing and turn-taking behaviour. They learn to wait. They argue, of course, but that means they learn how to handle conflict, and start to understand what it might feel like from the other child’s perspective. They learn patterns of caring for one another.
A 2014 study found that sibling relationships help children develop sympathy, including behaviours like helping and sharing with others. The effect was independent of children’s relationships with parents and friends – in other words, ‘play dates’ didn’t have the same effect as a deep relationship that is embedded in the child’s life
Another study looking at the lives of 57,000 people between 1972-2012 found that children with siblings acquired better social skills, which helped them navigate relationships when they were older. Amazingly, there was actually a correlation between having a sibling and divorce: Each additional sibling, up to about seven, reduced the likelihood of divorce in later life by 2 percent
That’s all great, but what if a sibling isn’t on the cards?
To some degree, childcare choices can replicate the benefits of sibling life. Of the four main childcare options, both a nanny share and a childminder provide a sibling-ish experience. Children form deep relationships with just one or two other children, as would happen in a natural family. And our nanny share families do often tell us of the incredible bond that their child has with the other family’s child.
In fact, our daughter does hang out all day with her best friend, sharing everything with her. And they are indeed close as sisters. Although they squabble – it’s not all smiles and giggles – my daughter hates leaving her best friend at the end of the day, and is sometimes only consoled by the idea that they’ll see each other again tomorrow.
So if you’ve an only child, and are in no rush to produce another, don’t fret. The ‘sibling-like’ experience of a nanny share or childminder can go a long way towards capturing the benefits.
I’ll tell that to the next person who asks.
If you're thinking about a nanny share, you can find out more here.