Helping Siblings to Get Along
A new member of the family is a challenge for any child to accept, but this is especially true of younger children. New babies can be seen as a fun ‘toy’ at first but soon the older sibling can feel that their role in the family is being diminished, and sibling rivalry may become an issue. It’s important to remember that if you notice this happening in your family, please don’t think it’s because you’re a bad parent or have failed in some way, you are simply dealing with a very normal reaction that children can easily have. The good news is that you can do a lot to diffuse any tension and set the siblings up for a life of close friendship.
In the first part of this article series, we considered how important it is to prepare the older sibling for the arrival of a new baby. This can help the older sibling feel valued even as the family changes. In this article, we will be focusing on practical steps that you can take that will help the siblings get along well and promote harmony in the family.
Your older child is very likely to feel some level of resentment towards the baby and they may even try to hurt the baby. If the older sibling is severely punished for this behaviour, this may make them feel more resentful. Really, this behaviour is a red flag showing that the older sibling is finding the new situation challenging, so every effort should be made to ask the older sibling how they are feeling. Maybe there are many gifts being given to the new baby and the older sibling is feeling neglected. Maybe the older child is feeling like his or her parents are no longer interested in playing together. Giving gifts to the older sibling and arranging fun activities (even when you’re a bit exhausted), can make a huge difference. If you respond to their feelings with respect, patience and understanding, the older sibling will find it much easier to grow into their role of responsible big brother or sister.
Put the Older Sibling Fist Sometimes
When you’ve got a baby, it’s natural to prioritise the needs of the baby, after all, everything does feel more urgent and none of us like to hear our little ones crying when they need something. But if your time with your older child is disturbed every time your baby makes a noise, your older child will soon feel devalued and outcompeted. One positive approach that many parents have found successful is prioritising the needs of both children, even when it means that the baby has to wait a little for something. For example, the baby could wait a little for the nappy to be changed while you get a snack for your older child. The meaning of such actions will not be lost on the older sibling.
Keep Communication Lines Open
Older siblings are naturally going to notice that the new baby is crying a lot, making mess etc, but they may be afraid to express any negative opinions. Parents can pre-empt this by talking with the older sibling about how the baby behaves and anything they’re likely to notice. If your older child says something about what’s frustrating them, this is valuable feedback that is important to acknowledge. If these feelings can be dealt with in the open, they are less likely to deepen and damage relationships later, while helping the older child develop resilience.
Promote Mutual Respect
Parents can do a lot to promote good feelings between siblings, in particular, mutual respect. How? Pointing out how much your baby likes their older sibling is a good start. Babies often find watching their older sibling very entertaining, so as they watch and laugh and smile, tell your older sibling how much their little brother or sister likes and appreciates them. Having the support of the youngest member of the family can even give the older child a big confidence boost and encourage warm feelings.
Spend Time Alone with Your Older Child
Nothing means more to your older sibling than time alone together. After all, it is parental attention that builds a child’s sense of belonging and security. So if at all possible, getting someone else (like a grandparent) to look after your baby while you take your older child out for a fun activity or something they enjoy will help you to enjoy a good relationship. You may also be surprised by how much of a difference this actually makes to improve the relationship between siblings.
Remember that Things Change
When you’re dealing with challenging behaviour caused by jealous siblings, it can feel like it’s a phase that will never end. But please be assured, it will end. In fact, they’re very likely to be ganging up on you very soon! So try your best to help them love and respect each other, and know that they’re both going to gain huge emotional and social benefits from having a sibling.