A topic that often comes up among my mom friends is how to avoid jealousy between siblings. As with everything, I believe we, as parents, plant the seed. Many times, unknowingly, we do and say things that encourage siblings to resent each other- sometimes before they’re even born! It is up to us to help nourish a loving bond between them. It’s most helpful if it begins before a new baby is born but, if you’ve already passed that stage, it’s not too late!! There are always improvements to be made!
*This post is all important but a longer one so if you don’t feel like you have the time, or want, to read it all then just skip to number 4 for one that can quickly be implemented today!*
Starting out, I hadn’t intended on making these posts in bullet points but its easier to organize my thoughts that way… so here are a few ways (in no particular order) that we can help build a better bond between our children:
Our days are busy and there is always so much to be done and, if you’re pregnant, all these things take ten times the amount of effort to accomplish. It’s understandable that you don’t have the time to let a toddler help you complete your tasks. However, it’s SO important that, when you’re preparing for baby, big brother or sister gets to help. Putting together a crib? Let them hold the instructions. Let them try to screw something in or hold up a piece of the bed. Anything. It’s going to make the process a little longer but it’ll be well worth it in the end. Anything that has to do with new baby should include big brother or sister as well. Shopping for clothes? Pick two outfits that you love and ask them to choose the one they like best. Then let them fold it and put it away (or hang it) once you get home. If they show interest in anything that has to do with the pregnancy or the baby, don’t dismiss them. Answer their questions and ask them follow up ones. Do anything you can, before baby comes, to make big brother or sister feel like it is just as much their baby as it is yours (also, make sure to make it clear that they are big sibling and not mommy or daddy because I’ve seen this go overboard in the other direction and the big brother or sister wants to take over being the parent and gets upset when the parents try to do anything because they’ve been told it’s “Their” baby. Balance and clarity is key). Keep in mind that there are going to be times that they DON’T want to help or talk about the new baby. That’s ok too. Let them take the lead on their feelings and run with it. If you get offended when they don’t want to participate it’s going to feel like they’re being forced into it.
Same goes for older siblings. It’s all about participation. When one has something special, the others are there to encourage them. The reason for this, is that it isn’t always possible to have them all in the same amount of programs or get the same amount of presents, or whatever. Things cannot always be physically or monetarily equal. So, we have help them encourage each other. Help them see their place in what everyone else is doing. For example, When Medina (5yo) plays soccer, the younger ones have “jobs”. Amaya (3yo) is the water girl and Lana (1yo) is the cheer leader (she claps and screams). When Amaya has a class, Medina and Lana are waiting to give her hugs when she’s done and I help Medina come up with questions to ask Amaya about her class. Whatever it is, they’re all involved in it together in one way or another.
Here it is again! Honesty is the basis off which all that I do with the kids. It’s definitely difficult sometimes, that’s for SURE! But, really, it makes things more simple in the long run and being honest with them has a great effects all around. If you want to teach them to be understanding, you have to give them the opportunity to understand. Just like adults, they wont always accept the truth gracefully. That’s perfectly ok. Just because they’re crying over the truth doesn’t mean they didn’t need to hear it. For example, Amaya and Medina share a bedroom. Amaya has to go to bed at 7 and Medina at 8. As you can imagine, Amaya was NOT happy about this recent change. I had to talk to her and tell her that she’s 3 and Medina is 5 and she needs more sleep than Medina does to be able to grow and once she’s 5 she can stay up another hour too, if she wants to. It took a few days of explaining it again and again but now it’s normal. She knows what’s happening and she understands the reason why. Also, It is now a part of Amaya’s routine that Medina hugs her sister goodnight and walks her to bed (participation). It would be so much easier to dismiss Amaya’s sadness about the change, or lie and say Medina will be in bed in a few minutes or something but the unintentional repercussions of that is resentment between siblings. Amaya will not understand WHY it’s happening and it’ll seem like we are favoring Medina. If something is seemingly unfair, explain to the kids why it’s necessary. Over and over again if they need it. Eventually they’ll get it and they won’t blame each other.
Same goes for siblings of babies. Explaining that babies have different needs (and maybe adjusting a little so that they can help with those needs if they want to) can have an immense effect on their connection to each other. Again, when things are seemingly unfair, take the time explain why they are necessary. I know some people will try to make things fair by saying things like…”ok you can stay up until the baby falls asleep”….but you’re only hurting yourself in the long run. Things can be fair without being the same. The earlier kids know this the better it is for all of you.
3. Get rid of unnecessary competitions
I restrict competing to actual competitions. Which is rare. So rare, in fact, I’m not sure they’ve competed against each other in anything other than a race across the yard. Not that I don’t find value in competing but I do think there is a time and a place. Neither of which are at home amongst the family while doing family things. A common competition is “who can finish their food first?!”- but it doesn’t matter. As long as they finish, who cares who finishes their food first? The problem with this is that, generally, one child always just eats better and faster than the other. For me, Amaya gags if she eats too quickly or takes bites that are too large, so she just naturally has to eat slower. It also really crushes her spirit when people point out how slow she is….but she almost always finishes everything on her plate so it’s unnecessary to do that to her. All it does is make her annoyed with her sister for being able to eat so quickly. Btw, it’s also a really unhealthy habit to eat quickly, so this is a bad competition all around. I was going to take the time to list a number of other competitions that need to go but, really, I can’t think of any that are good for a sibling relationship. A competition is literally a rivalry- and a rivalry definitely has no place within a family. If you find yourself saying “look ________is doing it better/faster than you” or ” lets see who can ____________first” just to get them to do things more quickly then take a moment to evaluate why you needs these things done quickly- if for any reason at all! Sometimes we just get into the habit of rushing for the sake of rushing. Slow down a little and help them encourage each other instead of wanting to “beat” each other see how quickly that’ll change their relationship!
4. Taking the name out of excuses
A small change in the way we speak makes BIG difference in how kids interpret a situation. When you say:
“I can’t help you right now, the baby needs to be fed”
“I’m giving my time to the baby and not you”
instead you can say:
“I’m busy right now, I can help you in about 10 minutes, I’ll set the timer for you”.
Then no one gets the blame for you being unavailable.
Always rearrange your words in such a way that you acknowledge what they need and let them know when you will be able to attend to them. It’s very difficult for kids to understand how a parent’s time needs to be split amongst the family so instead of saying where else your attention is going to right at that moment, let them know when the attention will be back on them. Instead of “I need to help Amaya right now, I’ll read to you later” I simply say “I’m sorry I can’t read to you right this moment, but if you wait for me in your bed, I’ll be there as soon as I can.” then I make sure to do just that.
The right thing to do isn’t always the easy thing to do. These little beings are watching us and responding to everything we do so, even after we’ve responded to everyone’s needs all day, we have to pull it together and continue respond to their needs with love, kindness, and compassion and hope that we do a good enough job that they learn it and send it back out into the world as they grow. OH! And of course- chocoalte. Lots of chocolate, coffee, and Target are involved in the success of this….and all other things.