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Older Brothers and Language Development

Feb 6, 2022 Most of us believe that a child who has an older sibling 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. A child with an older sibling acquires language more slowly than a child who has no sibling.

Even more surprising, apparently only older brothers impact the language skills of their younger siblings, says a study conducted by a team from the CNRS, AP-HP, EHESS, ENS, and INSERM. 

The study says that kids who grow up with an elder sister have identical development to children with no elder sibling. Isn’t that fascinating? 

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How Was the Study Conducted?

For the study, researchers followed more than one thousand children 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. 

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?

Researchers propose two theories that may explain this result. 

  1. 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 older sisters are more willing to jump in and play with a brother when parents are busy.
  2. Another hypothesis would be that elder sisters compete less than elder brothers for parental attention.

This study does not separate these two hypotheses. However, it does show that early language development in a younger sibling tends to be slower when the older sibling 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 whom is a girl, I can tell you that the research findings are 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 that we are working from home). The 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 and provide support. She can also play/entertain the younger child when we are busy, and teach moral values like right and wrong. 

I find that younger siblings also teach the older siblings things, as well! In watching my son grow and interact with his older sister, he definitely teaches her all about sharing! When he was little, she could take his toys and play with them and he wouldn’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 that’s him communicating that he is upset with the fact that she did something that he doesn’t agree with!

What’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!

One thing is sure, sibling language as it relates to speech delay is a fascinating topic for trying to understand our children’s speech! If you have concerns about your kid having speech and language delays, contact your local speech and language pathologist for speech therapy options.

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The author’s views are entirely his or her own and may not necessarily reflect the views of Blub Blub Inc. All content provided on this website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for independent professional medical judgement, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.

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