In many cultures, especially non-Western nonindustrialized ones, infants are found in the care of an older sister or brother (Teti, 1992; Zukow-Goldring, in Vol. 3 of this Handbook). In such situations, siblings typically spend most of their infant-tending time involved in unskilled nurturant caregiving, thereby freeing adults for more rewarding economic activities (Werner, 1979). In Western and industrialized societies, by contrast, siblings are seldom entrusted with much responsibility for "parenting" infants per se and are themselves engaged in activities preparatory for maturity. Mothers are more likely to respond contingently to 6- and 9-month infants than are older siblings or peers (Vandell and Wilson, 1987).
Sibling orientation toward infants displays features of both adult-infant and peer-infant systems (Pepler, Corter, and Abramovitch, 1982). On the one hand, siblings and infants share common interests and have more similar behavioral repertoires than do adults and infants. On the other hand, sibling pairs resemble adult-infant pairs to the extent that they differ in experience and levels of both cognitive and social ability (Abramovitch, Corter, and Lando, 1979). Older siblings tend to "lead" interactions and engage in more dominant, assertive, and directing behaviors. Reciprocally, infants often take special note of what their older siblings do; they follow, imitate, and explore the toys recently abandoned by older children. Of course, this strategy maximizes infant learning from the older child. Older siblings spend at least some time teaching object-related and social skills to their younger siblings (including infants), and the amount of teaching increases with the age of the older child (Minnett, Vandell, and Santrock, 1983; Stewart, 1983). Older preschool-aged firstborn children create more "social" (e.g., game) and "intellectual" (e.g., language mastery) experiences for their infant siblings than do younger preschool-aged firstborn children (Teti, Bond, and Gibbs, 1986) and so may influence social and cognitive skills of infants through teaching and modeling (Zajonc, 1983). By the end of the first year, infants' positive emotional exchanges extend to peers. For example, Eckerman, Whatley, and Kutz (1975) found that play episodes of peers between the ages of 10 and 24 months contained behaviors indicating positive emotions. Toward the end of the first year children watch and imitate peers' actions with toys (Singer, 1995). One study revealed that 17- to 20-month-old children engage in more creative or unusual uses of objects during play with peers than during play with mothers (Rubenstein and Howes, 1976). Older sisters and brothers certainly also learn about themselves and about others as a result of their infant minding (Mendelson, 1990).
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