That doesn’t mean peace will remain through all waking hours. Small disagreements and full-scale wars, complete with the hurling of toy-car missiles, are a certainty among all siblings, including those who share a room.
But even that clashing can set the stage for the kind of sibling connection that lasts a lifetime. Room-sharing provides so many ways for sisters or brothers or even combinations—though there are benefits to separating those kids before puberty—to work together as a team and learn to negotiate. A bunkmate also provides kids with a built-in confidante. And a strong sibling bond has lifelong benefits.
A smaller home also probably means the TV can be heard from around the house. The rewards come when we’re able to effortlessly monitor what our kids are watching. We can scream, “Change the channel,” or simply step in and magically appear for a teachable moment, educating our kids on being careful consumers during commercials. While fast-food chains and toy makers are trying to hold them captive, we can explain that people on television may seem beautiful and happy stuffing fries in their mouths, but they are acting.
It’s simple: The more opportunities a family has to communicate, the more a family will communicate. Smaller houses encourage the kind of unscripted moments during which real teaching and genuine communication occurs, says Dr. Wurm. The best discussions aren’t planned, she says, but are sparked from passing each other in hallways or from sitting around a kitchen island. Smaller homes give kids and adults easy access to one another, making the spontaneous expression of a thought or daily event practically effortless.
And if the size of your house means kids are sick of seeing you all the time, good; tell them to go outside. Rather than lounging around on leather sofas, Dr. Wurm wants to see our kids spend time outdoors, particularly in green or wooded areas. This enhances their physical and mental well-being. Sunlight and trees are natural mood elevators, and exercise improves a kid’s ability to learn and concentrate. Studies from the University of Illinois point out that kids score better on tests after exercise, and separate research proves children with ADHD display higher levels of focus after coming in from outside.
Overall, all this is not to say that people in big houses won’t be home in time for dinner or will somehow neglect to communicate with their unsuccessful kids. Besides, how could we even define the words "big houses," seeing as it would have a far different definition for a family in New York City than it would for a Texan? Rather, the idea is to introduce some alternative considerations when contemplating the homes we choose and evaluating their locations and sizes. Or even during those unfortunate times when we compare our lives to other people’s lives.
It’s true, many families—hopefully most—with colossal kitchens will do a great job of organizing sibling-bonding opportunities. But considering the true developmental needs of our kids, those families without so much space will not be doing even one bit worse.