This post has been in my drafts for a while. Probably because I’m learning as I go, and I’ve added some notes along the way. I’ll preface this by saying that my boys have a wonderful relationship. I can’t take all the credit, because they have always loved each other and were drawn to each other’s polar opposite energy from day one. I would describe my boys as one being the moon, and the other being the sun. They are perfectly balanced, and make my world go round and round in the most beautiful way.
While they are my world, the world they orbit is probably made of Legos, tiny plastic dinosaurs that find their way into the hallway carpet late at night and stab my husband’s toes on the way to the bathroom, and a general appreciation for all things outdoors.
I haven’t done everything right, and to be completely truthful, I’ve only been helping cultivate their relationship for about 3.5 years (including some time while I was pregnant), but I’ve learned a lot along the way. I knew that I wanted to create a positive atmosphere for them to grow their friendship and ‘brotherhood’ in our home from the get go.
I made plenty of mistakes, but I think they’ll be okay in the end. Here’s what I learned when it comes to helping encourage sibling relationships…
Start Things Off Right
If you’re currently pregnant, consider trying to put your best foot forward when it comes to encouraging a positive relationship between your children. Let your child talk to the baby in your belly (or make train noises as they scoot Thomas over your belly), and let them know the baby can hear them!
When you bring your new little one home from the hospital, make sure to take plenty of time to introduce them to your older child(ren). Be sure to allow them to explore, with some guidance and patience. Let them touch the new baby’s fingers, toes and hair.
You can even tell your older child about the day you brought the home from the hospital, how excited you were, and how small they used to be.
I did this with my first son, Max, when we brought Jax home from the hospital. I can still remember his eyes looking into mine as I told him how anxious I was holding him for the first time, and how many times I counted his ten little fingers and toes. I let Jax’s tiny wrinkled fingers wrap around Max’s pointer finger, and asked him if he could remember wrapping his fingers around mine. He giggled, and of course answered with a ‘No!’, but I he looked intently at his brother’s hand wrapped around his, and smiled.
Ask Them To Help, But Only So Much…
Asking your child to help their sibling is a wonderful thing! It helps them learn respect, empathy, compassion, and caring. And this doesn’t just apply to your older child. Your younger child(ren) can help their siblings as well. But there’s an importance balance to keep in mind.
Asking them to hand their sibling a wipe for their runny nose is great! Asking them to fetch a diaper and wipes for you every time you need to change a diaper isn’t.
Great ways for them to help one another would be to encourage them to help push the stroller/shopping cart, hand their sibling a toy they can’t reach, turn on their favorite movie when they are sad, or rock their baby swing lightly while they sleep.
With that said, try not to rely on your children too much. You should be the caretaker, and the constant in their lives. Asking your child to give your other child a snack every day after school (insert a way better example here), creates a chore type feeling towards their sibling. They won’t want to help their sibling out because they’ll feel like it’s work.
Don’t Compare Your Children
Comparing your children only hurts them. Yes, they’re different – they are two completely different people! So why wouldn’t they be different? And normally, at least from what I’ve seen and heard from other moms I know, the second kiddo can be kind of a wild thing. I can attest to that!
But constantly comparing them almost puts them up against each other. Kids need to know they are equally loved. That even though they are different ages, and thus treated a little differently in that respect, that you still love and appreciate all the things that make them the unique and incredible little human beings that they are.
Make it a habit to always talk well about your children to other people as well, including other children. Children overhear a lot of what their parents say about them.
Well, okay. If they are in bed, and you need to vent about the Cheeto dust stuck in your hair after what seemed like the longest day ever, consider the 8:32 p.m. phone call to your BFF a safe space.
Do your kids love the same toy? Like Mr. Potato Head, or Legos?
Get them together on the living room carpet, lay out a toy they both love to play with, and let them build up their relationship with a bond they won’t even know is forming.
Respect One Another
My kids love to throw toys at one another every once in a while, when my back is turned and my patience is worn thin. It must be the energy I’m putting out that causes an upset in the balance of their worlds. All those negative vibes – yeesh.
Give them a big thumbs up when they share toys, take turns, and politely disagree. Because it’s totally fine to disagree, but when one socks the other in the mouth for taking the Mr. Potato arms out of the sockets – that’s not okay. It doesn’t fly at school, and it won’t fly here at home. Be sure to give a firm thumbs down for the latter.
It takes work, and something we’re constantly reinforcing for our boys, but it pays off.
Teach Them That It’s Okay To Disagree
I might have already mentioned this one (see above), but I feel it’s really important to reiterate.
Siblings disagree, just like any two people on planet Earth. It seems to happen more often because they are living and growing up in the same household. They are forever learning, exploring, and communicating (although, not always in an effective way).
Older kids have more difficulty with this than their younger siblings, because they are more passionate and logical with the reasoning behind why they feel the way they feel about something. When they feel something, they FEEL it. And feelings are pretty important. It’s normal to have those, and to let those differ from someone else’s. It’s part of what makes us who we are.
When it comes to disagreeing, I try to think of how I’d like them to handle it when they are teenagers. Do I want them to scream at each other just because they don’t see eye to eye? Or do I want them to know that they can still respect each other, take some time apart, and feel the way they do without creating WWIII in the middle of my kitchen? The last one, please!
If they can’t stand that the other sibling disagrees (on how to play with a certain toy, or what to do next, etc), consider implementing some individual free-play time. Or even a complete change in activities – some fresh air, perhaps…
Include Some Oxytocin
If your kids like to rough house, cheer them on! They don’t know it, but they are naturally releasing the feel-good hormone oxytocin.
Wrestling on the floor, running outside, and laughing until their bellies ache and their faces turn beet red are all great ways to get your kids involved with one another in a positive way while developing a healthy bond.
Let Them Play
If you see your kids playing together, and having the BEST of times, but lunch is hot and waiting for their hungry bellies to devour it – let it grow cold and keep those kids giggling away. Try not to interrupt the good times for the macaroni cheese you boiled and tried to sneak veggies into. Lunch can wait – the delicate bond they are building that will last into adulthood (hopefully) cannot!
Tell Older Kids How Special They Are To Little Brother/Sister
“Awww, see how she looks at you? She loves her big brother! She smiles every time you make that sound.”
“Yay! Your brother loves when you help him build a big Lego tower! See how happy he is? You made him smile SO BIG! He loves you so much.”
Simple, easy comments like that make your child take notice of the cheerful and happy moments that are easy to forget when their sibling is crushing their Lego tower or crying at 2:00 a.m. Making them feel special to one another will help them realize that they are, and give their relationship some building blocks.
They will also be feeling those positive reinforcement vibes you’re putting out, although they won’t be able to pick up on what you’re doing until much, much later. Probably around the time they have to guide their own children towards a constructive relationship ;).
“Sweetie, that was so nice of you to give your sister some of your French fries!”
“Thank you for sharing your building blocks with your brother – that is so kind of you! I know how much you love your blocks.”
Instead of expecting them to behave one way – encourage their good behavior when you see it by complimenting them! This is another way to put out those positive reinforcement vibes.
I try to take time each day to give out a minimum of 5 compliments.
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