Born to be wild: Disruptive children don’t inspire unruly behavior in siblings, study finds

TEL AVIV — Parents can breathe easy: having one wild child in the house won’t increase the likelihood of having two.

A new study finds that disruptive children don’t inspire their siblings to act out similarly. In fact, siblings of disruptive children might be more likely to learn how not to behave by watching their unruly brother or sister.

The study, conducted by researchers at Tel Aviv University in collaboration with a team at the University of Toronto, examined data from 916 toddlers and their siblings in the Toronto area who were in preschool or grade school. The data was gathered through both interviews with the parents and home observations every 18 months until three sessions were completed.

Siblings running in street
Got a wild child? A new study finds that one child’s disruptive behavior won’t influence a sibling’s development.

Parents were instructed to report any disruptive behavior of each child in the house. The researchers analyzed the reports to determine how such behavior influenced the development of the well-behaved child.

“The development of disruptive behavior in early childhood is extremely important, as disruptive behavior starts early in life and behavioral patterns may become stable and resistant to influence later on. We found that in early childhood, children do not learn from each other how to be disruptive, violent or disobedient,” says Dr. Ella Daniel of TAU’s Jaime and Joan Constantiner School of Education, in a university news release.

“In fact, they are more likely to learn what not to do, or how not to behave,” she adds. “The older siblings of young children who are disruptive tend to become less disruptive themselves over time, creating a polarizing effect on their behaviors.”

The researchers took into account heredity, parenting, social environment, and shared history as control factors in their findings. Daniel says the study should give parents some relief when it comes to concerns over how influential one child’s difficulties might be upon the other.

“The study teaches us that we have little to worry about one sibling being ‘a bad influence’ on their brothers or sisters. Instead, we should be more worried of pigeonholing: that one child will be labeled as a ‘black sheep,’ and that all children in the family will develop based on pre-assigned roles,” she says. “We should let each child develop his or her individuality, which naturally changes over time.”

As a follow-up study, the researchers will be looking into whether or not siblings have an effect on depression and anxiety that develops in childhood.

The study was published in the journal Child Development.