Tips To Foster A Loving Sibling Relationship
From The Get-Go!

Tips For The First Year And Beyond

Expecting a second? Feelings around the new addition to the family are bound to happen.

The first year is crucial in siblings developing a loving relationship with one another. Language used with or around siblings can also be a game-changer either in fostering that relationship or fueling any resentment that an older child may harbour towards their younger sibling.

 

Let's looks at how you can foster a loving sibling relationship between your children from the first year and beyond.

Sleeping Siblings

1. Cuddle both baby and your firstborn together.

 

Show them that you love them both equally. Your firstborn will feel all the new attention on the new baby, therefore it is important to show your older child that your love for them hasn’t changed, but in fact, grown, and you have space for both in your heart. 

 

You can say: “I love both my children so much! I’m the luckiest mommy in the world to have two children”.. whilst holding them and giving them both a hug.

It is also important not to only spend the time that baby sleeps bonding with your older child. This will send the message that your older child is only important when the baby sleeps, so it is imperative to spend quality time together with the older child when the younger child is awake as well.

 

2. When one or the other is upset, talk about it out loud.

 

This helps each to feel important and doesn’t harbour resentment, especially from the older sibling.

 

You can say to your older child: “Ah, your baby brother/sister is so upset because he/she is hungry. What do you think we can do?” 

 

Also, to your younger child, you can say: “Your big brother/sister is so upset right now because he/she hurt their big toe. Your brother/sister needs mommy right now ok. _________, you really hurt yourself, what can mommy do? Alright, I’m going to give you a hug and kiss your toe better. Baby, see, your brother/sister feels much better now.”

 

You may find that on occasion the younger sibling will crawl over to the older sibling, curious about what is going on. In this case, you can say to your older child: “Ah Tom look, Sarah is feeling worried and is coming to see if you are ok too.”

 

3. Join in with the baby when your older child is playing.

 

You can hold or feed your baby whilst sitting on the floor with your older child so that your older child feels included in what you are doing with the baby.

 

Pretend to play with your older child. You can ask: "What car can I play with? Oh, thank you, I love the blue one. Vrooom vrooom.."

 

This helps your older child to feel as though your attention is on them as well, although divided. To them, it is better than having all attention on the baby.

 

4. Ask your older child for help. 

 

When you hear the baby crying, you can say to the older child: “Oh, I hear your brother/sister crying, what do you think they need? Can you get that toy for them please? That’s very helpful and kind of you for looking after your brother/sister like that. You’re the best older brother/sister!” 

 

OR (when you are on the loo for example)

“Luke, your brother is crying for me, but I can’t get to him right now. He needs someone, do you think you could help him?”

 

5. Focus on what you need your older child to do, not on what they shouldn’t be doing. 

Sometimes your older child may be playing too loudly whilst you are trying to get the baby to sleep, or putting things (like toys) into the baby’s mouth to “feed” them. They may not mean harm or be deliberate in their actions. They simply have no impulse control. They also may feel as though they are doing “good” - being loud because they are merrily playing or feeding the baby because they think the baby is hungry. Shifting our perspective to their viewpoint can be helpful in realizing that they have good intentions.

 

You can say to your older child: “Can you play as softly as a mouse, please? If you want to play loudly, that is fine. Then you can play outside. If you choose to play inside, can you play as softly as a mouse?”

 

OR be very playful and silly. You can say: “Baby! Toys are not for eating! If you’re hungry ask your brother/sister for some milk, see. Sarah, your sister looks very hungry. She looks so hungry she is eating that toy in your hand! Do you think we could give her something else to eat? Yes, let’s see if she wants some milk.” This is a good opportunity to laugh with your children.

 

6. Give your older child some responsibility.

 

Helping with nappy changes, throwing nappies away, preparing milk bottles, helping to wash baby, selecting the clothes their baby siblings wear are all examples of where the older child can help and encourages that sense of responsibility.

 

My older child loved to throw the dirty nappies away after I changed the baby. He also enjoyed filling his brother’s water bottle up after the baby turned 6 months old. At times, my older child also helps wash him in the bath. If older children feel a sense of responsibility they build a stronger bond and relationship with their sibling. It is important to note, however, that your older child is not responsible for caring for your younger child. Giving some responsibility and expecting them to be responsible for the younger child are not one in the same, so it is important to be mindful of that.

Using descriptive praise can be very helpful for encouraging responsibility. You can say: "Wow, it is incredibly helpful of you to throw your brother/sister's dirty nappy away for me. You even did it without me asking. That shows your responsibility and your willingness to help."

 

7. Encourage your child to entertain the baby.

As the baby grows and develops its innate personality, your younger sibling will learn to interact with their older sibling. They will start laughing and you may find very special moments of bonding and connecting between the two siblings.

 

When this occurs, verbalize your thoughts and comment on their interaction in order to encourage your older child to entertain and interact with your younger child. Something as simple as your older child making amusing sounds or playing peekaboo will be entertaining for the younger sibling.

 

You can say: “Ah, your brother/sister is smiling, he/she loves your tricks. Look how your brother/sister enjoys you playing with them. They really enjoy watching and listening to you.” 

 

8. Remark on your children’s affection towards one another.

When a baby reaches their arm out to touch your face, that is one of the first signs of affection. When you see that, mention it to your older child. Also mention to your baby how much their older sibling loves them when you see them showing affection.

 

You can say: “Ah look Ella, your brother/sister loves you. Do you love your sister, Sam? You have the best big sister ever. And Ella you have the best little brother/sister ever.”

 

To your younger child, you can say, “Is Ella making you smile Sam? Ah, Ella loves you so much. You love her so much that you love smiling at Ella too. You children are the most lovable siblings!”

 

9. See each of your children for their unique traits.

 

Don't compare your children. They pick up on it and will then start comparing themselves to one another. See your children each for the unique traits that they possess. If your one child is more energetic than your other child for example, rather than saying "Why can't you be more like your brother, look how calm they are?!" Say what you see:

"You have so much energy you want to jump and bounce and run around all the time" or "You are playing so quietly, you really enjoy being engulfed in what you are doing, just sitting so calmly and playing."

10. Show and model gratitude.

 

You can do this throughout the day, but one of the best times to do this is at dinner time. Before eating supper, each person can go round and mention something they were grateful for in their day. You can incorporate family members into the nightly tradition or ritual.

You can say: "I am grateful for you children playing so well together today. That shows how much you appreciate and value having each other."

Doing this helps your older child learn to appreciate their sibling, melting away any resentment. 

11. Love them by leaving them.

Sometimes older siblings can be so excited about their new sibling that they "smother" them with love. This can irritate a baby or young child by the older sibling wanting to be in their space, coming too close, or not leaving them alone.

Parents tend to react, with the intent to protect the younger child, by stepping in and reprimanding, and find themselves saying "No" or "Don't do that" very often. From the older child's perspective, it may be their way of showing love without having the impulse control of knowing when to step away. Constantly hearing "no" may send the message not to show affection towards their younger sibling anymore.

You can set a loving limit and teach your older child the concept of loving their younger sibling by leaving them. This shows them that giving their younger sibling the space they need doesn't mean they are removing their love, but that their love remains through their action of meeting their younger sibling's need for space.

 

12. Ask for help and take a break when needed.

 

Your children depend on you to stay emotionally regulated, and that means you need to keep your own cup full. Figure out what keeps you centred, and work it into your schedule. Fostering a healthy sibling relationship requires that you stay in balance yourself.

COACHING KIDS THROUGH CONFLICT

You want your children to be friends and companions, preferably long beyond childhood.  If you want to learn how to coach your kids through conflict with their siblings, then the video below may be helpful.

 

In this video, I discuss why siblings fight and our role in it as parents, inspired by parenting expert Dr Laura Markham who is the author of Peaceful Parent Happy Siblings, through practical examples by means of role-play in a light and humorous way.

NEED MORE SUPPORT?

I am happy to offer assistance, guidance and support in terms of how to coach your kids through conflict.

 

Contact Cassandra here for Parenting Support in Child Behaviour and Development or email info@nannyknows.co.za to find out about the next Sibling Rlationship workshop:

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