Most of what I know about raising kids who get along comes from my own parents, who successfully raised ten children spanning two decades – who all get along, down to enjoying goofy Google plus hangouts. Yesterday saw all ten of us, and my parents, on a G+ Hangout for the first time ever, along with several grandchildren, including all four grandbabies born in 2012. Thanks to modern technology we were able to span the globe, from California, Washington State, Utah, Florida, and Massachusetts to the more far-flung Ukraine and China! My raising kids who get along post is one of the most popular I’ve ever written on this blog (alongside 20 ways to cope with sleep deprivation, which I thankfully don’t suffer from nearly as much as I used to), so I thought I would share how we work on sibling relationships from the very beginning.
My parents did lot of things to help us learn to appreciate family. One of the most important was the way they introduced new family members. Here are a few things I learned from them about bringing home a younger sibling:
- When a new baby arrives, the older siblings’ role as an older sibling is as important as the new baby. My mom always talked to us about the baby in terms of our relationship with the baby – so we didn’t feel that the baby was replacing us; he or she was simply enriching our lives.
- Explain special treatment the baby receives in terms of the baby not being able to do things the older sibling can do. For example, a baby needs to drink a bottle or nurse because they don’t have teeth, so they can’t eat the older sibling’s favorite foods. The baby is carried everywhere because they can’t walk (or can’t walk very far/very fast), while the older sibling is a great runner!
- If an older sibling expresses disgust or disdain for the baby having dirty diapers or spitting up, build empathy instead of distance by commenting on how nice it is that the older sibling doesn’t have to wear diapers any more, or knows how to keep their food in their stomach now.
- Emphasize the older siblings’ ability to teach the baby new things. This makes them feel very important and valued, and helps them establish their own new role within the family. I also find that older siblings are often more effective teachers than I am!
- When older siblings interact with the baby inappropriately, teach them an appropriate way to interact rather than getting angry or frustrated with them. I remember my mom having older siblings jump and do other tricks for the baby – and have found that very useful when older siblings were getting a bit too affectionate.
- Talk about how much the baby likes their older siblings.
- Give lots of positive reinforcement for appropriate behavior.
- Allow room for the older siblings to regress a bit in the early months after a baby is born. There are a lot of changes happening in the home, and everyone is feeling more tired and strained than usual. Make sure the older siblings are still getting plenty of attention.
My mom always felt that starting a sibling relationship off right went a long ways towards preventing resentment later in life – and I think there is a lot of truth in that. Here are a few other things I’ve added – not as time-tested, but they have helped us:
- Have the baby bring siblings gifts, and let siblings bring baby gifts to the hospital.
- Wear the baby when you want to give the baby a break from siblings.
- Encourage siblings to look after a baby doll or stuffed animal while you look after the baby.
- If siblings get rough with the baby and won’t redirect, sadly say that you have to remove the baby, because they aren’t being kind to the baby. I usually put the baby in a baby carrier at this point. Remind siblings that babies are people, not toys.
What are your best tips for establishing a positive sibling relationship from the very beginning?