A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

18 Skills You Learn Growing Up in a Big Family

Updated: Mar. 14, 2024

Sure their dinner tables are crowded, but their hearts are full. While the average American family is actually shrinking according to research, 13 percent of Americans are in a family with four or more children. Here is the most relatable wisdom from people from large families, because—you know—the more the merrier!

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How to socialize

Friendship and patience comes a little easier to people from big families. “Although my house has never been quiet, I wouldn’t want it any other way. It’s made me a much more social and loving person. I have learned to be more patient and understanding—and I know where to hide the good candy!” —Emily Scoular, one of seven children

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iStock/Christopher Futcher

How to shine on your own

“I learned from a young age how to stand out in a crowd. You always had other people vying for attention and if you wanted to be heard, or in some cases if you wanted dinner, you had to step up your game. For better or worse, I think it helped all of us develop our personalities.” —Megan Allsup, one of five children

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How to support each other

Sisterhood is definitely one of the things people from big families know how to knock out of the ball park. “The biggest lesson I learned is to always have your sisters’ back as your sisterswhether related by blood or notwill have yours.” —Gloria Yang, one of five girls (Here are the best movies about sisters to watch this weekend.)

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iStock/Lisa Blue

What to expect in the future

People from large families know that the youngest siblings grow up a little faster because they’re exposed to more, like the endlessly cool older sibling to first walk the family path. “I grew up with seven siblings and because of it, I’ve always had a built-in support system. I never needed many friends outside of my family which made me very independent early. When I went away to college, I had already tried a lot of the things my peers were doing because my older brother and older sister had set the precedence by trying it all, so thanks to them I didn’t have to fall down the rabbit hole of new experiences with strangers.” —Tamar Bazin, one of seven children

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iStock/Armin Staudt

How to share

“I grew up one of four and the eldest of two younger sisters, so I had to be their role model. While I was at home sleeping they would sneak out and take my car. Nothing in my wardrobe was mine except my shoes (they were way too big for them). Sharing is now my nature because of my siblings.” —Orna Zak, one of four children

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Check before you pee

People from big families know that solo bathroom time is completely sacred, if not rare. “I grew up in a three-family house with aunts, uncles, and cousins. I learned to always check the shower or pull back the curtain before using the bathroom. At five years old, I heard ‘I see you’ while I sat helplessly on the potty and it scared the daylights out of me! I still look to this day!” —Rachel Ferrucci, one of many from a large, extended family under one roof 

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There’s always room for one more

You know what the most heart-warming thing people from big families know is? It’s that there’s always room for one more at the table or celebration, and community is everything. “I’m the youngest of nine kids and my mom always said, ‘What difference does one more make, the more the merrier’ when we asked if someone could come over to eat, play, etc. It’s probably why I love entertaining! If I ever hear of anyone who doesn’t have a place to go for Thanksgiving or Christmas I always make sure to invite them to join us, whether I know them well or not. I just warn them that it will be loud and it will be crazy, but it will also be fun.” —Noelle Smith Primavera, one of nine children

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Emotional intelligence is everything

“I grew up in a blended family with six kids between two houses (four at my primary home). As the oldest, the biggest lesson I learned as part of such a large family was emotional intelligence. Being able to read a room and understand how people are feeling, and adapting accordingly. This can also be a hurdle, because being constantly aware and worried about how other people are feeling can make it hard to get an honest point across.” —Christina McGoldrick, one of six children

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How to discuss hot topics without turning it into an argument

“People from big families learn how to discuss divisive topics with brilliant, opinionated, and emotional people and stay kind. Politics, social issues, religion… it can get hot in the Sandberg household, but we learned to never personalize it. Turned out to be an incredibly useful skill.” —Erica Sandberg, one of seven children (Use one of these wise quotes to stop any argument.)

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iStock/Johnny Greig

How to laugh at yourself

“As the youngest of seven children (five girls and two boys), the most positive thing I learned was the ability to laugh at myself and just generally have thick skin. My six siblings are now and always will be my built-in best friends, but it doesn’t mean that they don’t seize the opportunity to humble me when it seems I may need to be taken down a notch.” —Monica Banks, one of seven children

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How to speak in public

People from large families know that you need to make your voice heard, and you need to do it an eloquent way. “Having a big family eliminated all fear of public speaking. From Thanksgiving skits to backyard dance recitals to helping one another ask our crushes to prom, we were always putting on a production for friends, relatives, and strangers! I can speak in front of anyone and can also politely negotiate with customer service when needed. Meanwhile, my husband, who is one of just two kids, avoids even talking to food delivery people on the phone.” —Alise Edgcomb, the oldest of five children (These magic phrases can help you nail public speaking.)

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iStock/Marilyn Nieves

Precision timing

“I’m the oldest of four kids after losing my step dad, Mom resorted to her military training to teach us life lessons. I can literally make a bed military style, clean the room, shower, and get dressed in 20 minutes, which was all the time we were given individually to get down to have breakfast together before school…in a one bathroom house. Everything had to pass her inspection. This has helped me a lot in business.” —Rahru R. Arceneaux, the oldest of four kids

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How to yell quietly

Yelling can get you in a lot of trouble, and most people from big families know that all too well, so you learn to adapt your voice in such a way that gets the point of yelling across without all the volume. “You learn how to project your voice without yelling, so you are heard but not yelled at for yelling.” —Eti Hendeles, one of many children

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How to work as a team

“As the 13th of 15 children, you learn a lot about responsibilities and, of course, chores. I could always rely on were my older siblings. We worked as a team; they set the example and showed us. I don’t even remember a time we weren’t working together as a team be it at farm work chores, homework, and even just playing together outside. And the older I get, the more valuable I see how important that relationship was to me growing up. It helps me in my every day life and in my high pressure work environment of styling hair on a live TV set.” —Dean Banowetz, “The Hollywood Hair Guy,” the 13th of 15 children

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A parent of three can be a mother of ten

People from large families know that once you pass the three-children mark, you’re already outnumbered and need to come up with some serious organizational systems. “If you can handle three, you can handle a million, because by that point you’re out numbered and they already run in million different directions.” —Chaya Margaret Levi-Roth

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iStock/Jacob Ammentorp Lund

How to get over your barista mispelling your name

People from large families know that names get butchered by parents routinely when there is a long list to remember. “You learn to answer to whatever version of your name your mom manages to call you.” —Raquel Lachmann-Gothardt (Check out the 17 words even smart people mispronounce.)

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How to fight for the last chicken leg like your life depends on it

“Do you know how important it is to sit at the dinner table quickly when there is chicken for dinner? You run like you’re competing in the Olympics, because the chicken goes quickly and if you miss your chance by doing something else or talking too much, you’re left with rice and vegetables. Growing boys don’t want that.” —Yossef Hermon, one of five children

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There’s always something or someone to celebrate, and that’s beautiful

Plentiful birthday celebrations turn into other momentous life celebrations like graduations, engagements, weddings, and new babies. “Growing up with eleven siblings I loved that we always had something to celebrate. Lots of siblings meant lots of birthdays.” —Shaindel Siev, one of twelve children

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest