It is virtually impossible to determine the full effect of sibling relationships on children. You will find much research and data on parent-child relationships, but far less research has been done on sibling relationships and outcomes on children. One study on sibling relations states, “In comparison to the wealth of studies on parent-child relationships, relatively little attention has been devoted to the role of siblings and their impact on one another’s development.”
I believe this difference is, at least partially, due to the fact that the siblings are also children themselves. And children are in the ongoing process of growing, changing, and developing.
HSP Me and My (Non-HSP) Brother
Growing up, I had several older siblings, but the one right above me in age was the one who likely had the greatest effect on me.
After all, we shared a room and pretty much everything else, even clothing (and often attractions to the cutest schoolgirl).
The thing is, I thought all my older brother’s ideas were the greatest and by the same token I did not have any good ideas of my own … or at least that’s how I felt as a child.
It came to the point that my brother was so irritated at the way I would mimic and copy the things he wanted to do and wanted to be, and even the friendships or relationships he hoped to develop, that he began asking me to clarify my opinion on a situation before he would divulge his opinion.
In short, he was tired of me copying him.
I thought his requirement that I state my opinion before he would divulge his opinion was unnecessary and unfair.
I have more clarity now on the issue. Besides the knowledge I have about …
- Copying another person being the sincerest form of flattery
- The fact that we’re all copying someone
- Very few people are true geniuses that do not mimic someone else whether in art or in writing or in rhetoric
… the truth was that as a highly sensitive child, I was so deeply empathetic and sensitive to my brother’s feelings and moods and perspectives that I adopted them as my own without realizing it.
Importance of Awareness for Parents of HSCs
This is a very important thing for parents of a highly sensitive child (HSC) to be aware of.
Especially if the parent was not themselves highly sensitive, they might not realize what a strong effect their non-HSP children might be having on their HSP children.
This is not to say that the effect of a non-HSP child on an HSP child is negative.
Hardly. There is much I learned from my sibling relationship with my older brother and I am grateful to him for that, even though much of that learning was rife with tension because of the fact that he did not want me copying him.
I simply urge parents of both non-HSP and HSP children to have awareness.
For instance, one of your children might seem far more decisive than the other, who might seem to have a difficult time making decisions. This is natural.
With your increased awareness about the tendencies of your HSP child, however, you might encourage that child to make independent decisions in a safe environment.
Although they might not realize it, their very thoughts and feelings are often being influenced by the non-HSP child’s attitudes and speech and even their nonverbal cues.
I have both a highly sensitive and a non-highly-sensitive child. Because of my background and upbringing, I have been aware of the need to help my HSP child develop their own interests and perspectives in a safe environment and to explicitly let them know it’s okay for them to have opinions that are different from others.
HSP Children Need Support in Decisions
Sometimes it has been difficult to try to encourage my HSP child to make a decision on something, especially if they know that their decision is different or their perspective is different from that of the other individual.
Sometimes they will refuse to make a choice or state that they want one thing when in reality they want something else … but either consciously or subconsciously they are afraid of going against their sibling’s opinion.
Because the non-HSP child is less sensitive, they are not even attuned to this dynamic.
Again, awareness is important!
It is not that either child is good or bad or what they are doing is right or wrong.
They simply process information differently and thus make decisions differently.
The reason I urge this sensitivity and approach of awareness is that as a child I often felt very conflicted about my own feelings and opinions.
I feel, looking back, that if someone were to have come alongside me and encouraged me that it was okay to make up my mind and that what I thought and felt was valuable, rather than feeling accused and unappreciated for my approach, I might have found it easier to step out in life sooner.
I believe I would have taken a more healthy approach to decisions that I made … rather than (for many years) submitting to the desires of someone else in a variety of unhealthy relationships.
In short, these formative years are foundational in a child learning to grow into a healthy adult with healthy boundaries and positive relationship dynamics.
Some of the most core foundational experiences a child has are those with their siblings.
As such, it is vital that you, as a parent, are aware of these various factors, such as the sensitivity of a child and their natural processing.
It will make a huge difference for both your HSP and non-HSP child and their sibling relationship if you are aware of these things and help guide and support them in these areas.
Main Photo: Little Girl with Hand on Chin — Image by © LWA-Dann Tardif/zefa/Corbis
Second Photo: Two Girls Under Water — Image by © Zena Holloway/zefa/Corbis