Siblings can help with language development

Studies have indicated that older siblings can have a positive impact on the development of their younger siblings’ vocabulary and cognitive development. Cara Mohundro, SLP, a speech-language pathologist with Le Bonheur, weighs in on this topic below.

Previous studies suggest that the more children are in a family, the lower each child tends to measure on cognitive ability, including vocabulary and IQ assessments and other academic tests. Studies cite that the level of attention per child decreases each time another child is added to the family as attention is then split among all of the children.

However, new research advocates that better interactions between siblings can help overcome this barrier and lead to improved cognitive and language ability for the younger children in the family.

There are ways you can encourage sibling activities to promote positive interactions and good modeling of language, including:

  • Model using words when you give or show things to younger children, so that older siblings will learn to do the same. Instead of just handing the baby a ball, hold it out and use the word “ball” several times. “This is your ball. Do you want to play ball? I’m going to roll the ball to you!”
  • Ask older siblings to read books to their younger siblings. Make it part of your bedtime routine.
  • Teach siblings to play games together that are rich in language, such as “I Spy” or “Where is Thumbkin?”
  • When siblings experience conflict, encourage the older sibling to consider the younger child’s thoughts and feelings. For example, when two children are fighting over a toy, don’t just teach the rule: “She had it first.” Ask the older brother to think about how his younger sister might feel and reason why she might be upset about him taking her toy out of her hands.
  • Discourage older siblings from copying the “baby talk” they may hear from younger siblings. Ask them to model the “big kid” way of talking instead. For example, if baby brother is asking for his “baba,” big sister can say “You want your bottle. I’ll get your bottle for you.”
development, parenting