Dr. Flatter makes another interesting observation about this age group regarding gender. It is his opinion that having an opposite sex sibling allows both children to see things from one another’s perspective without the pressure of peer judgement. For example, a younger brother may well enjoy a close relationship with his older sister and will happily spend an afternoon playing ‘house’ with his sister. Likewise, an older sister might enjoy learning how to shoot baskets with her younger brother. What is important is that both children have the opportunity to explore pursuits and activities they may not have otherwise tried. Flatter concludes that this type of activity allows each child to gain important information about the opposite sex.
As children reach school age, the lessons of early childhood give way to the more complex issues associated with growing up: increased independence, responsibility and accountability. As before, the younger child will likely look to her older sibling for clues on how (or how not) to deal with these new expectations. How this information is passed from one sibling to the other depends largely on the relationship: siblings who are emotionally close will likely maintain an open dialogue while those with more complex relationships will be more rely on a more passive method like observation. Meanwhile, the lessons in living as part of the family continue. Because children with siblings learn (but may not necessarily accept) at a relatively young age that their needs cannot always come first, negotiation skills will be further developed, the art of compromise routinely practiced and the importance of identifying and setting priorities continually reinforced.
Most siblings will learn about the importance of trust during the teenage and young adult years, for it is during this time that many children begin to enjoy more independence from parental supervision. Those not wanting to lose this privilege will likely exhibit the required behavior and observe any limits (i.e. curfew) set by the parents. Younger siblings will easily recognize what is and isn’t considered appropriate behavior by observing the rewards (or consequences) received by their older siblings.
Further, if siblings are close in age, one may take the other into their confidence if, unbeknownst to the parents, a breech of rules has occurred. Siblings who learn to trust one another at an early age will probably enjoy close relationships throughout their adult lives. Of course, there is the potential for another valuable lesson: deciding if the aforementioned breaking of the rules is serious enough to warrant parental intervention. Siblings finding themselves in this situation will no doubt learn enough about trust, judgement and dealing with anger to last a lifetime.
Even as siblings age, most never stop learning from one another. Unfortunately, the lessons of childhood give way to weightier issues such as illness, the death of a loved one and other traumatic events, but because siblings have already gained so much from one another, these painful lessons are made somewhat easier.