Preventing Sibling Wars: How To Help Older Kids Be Kind
No matter how many children you have, or how big or small their age differences are, having a new baby always presents a major adjustment phase for your family. Toddlers may have a hard time letting go of being in the spotlight, while older children might deal with feelings of jealousy, isolation, and anxiety. Adding a new member to the family can bring about a shift in schedule, routine, and attitudes - and that’s ok! If your older children are having a difficult time coping with the arrival of a new sibling, it might just take some simple adjustments to get everyone back on track.
Here are some parent-tested tips for helping siblings get along:
1. Prepare, prepare, prepare.
If you’re aiming to set your children up for success when the new baby arrives, make sure you keep one focus during your pregnancy on preparation. The sudden arrival of a new baby can disturb both young toddlers and older children alike, because kids thrive on routine and predictability. Even if you don’t share with your child that a new baby is on the way the minute you find out you’re expecting, create a time frame of at least several months to begin preparing your child for a younger sibling.
One way you can prepare older children for a new sibling is to show them books and videos about the arrival of a new baby. There are plenty of books available online, in stores, and at the local library - so be sure to grab a few age-appropriate picks for your child and read them repeatedly throughout your pregnancy.
If you have a toddler that has never been around a newborn baby, find a friend or family member with a new baby and have a playdate! Let your little one be exposed to how small a new baby is, how loudly they cry, and how reliant they are on the mother. The more exposure your toddler has with babies, the less shocked she’ll be when her own little sibling arrives!
If you have older children, be sure to set each one up with some kind of special outlet that helps them relax and feel special. This might mean signing up for a sport, learning a musical instrument, taking an art class, or having a weekly playdate at a friend’s house. The new baby will take up most of your time, energy, and attention, so make sure that your other children have a space they can also call their own.
2. Give them a job.
This might surprise you, as young children tend to act self-centered, but most kids actually love to help! Even young toddlers can help you grab a clean diaper, hold a bottle, or get a change of clothes for the baby. Older children can help pick up toys, feed the baby, and grab you a snack or water if you’re busy breastfeeding your newborn. Learn to count on your children to be helpful and thoughtful, and you’ll not only be giving yourself a much-needed break, you’ll be teaching your children to grow up to be compassionate, caring human beings.
3. Allow them to be the teacher.
Although there’s not much older siblings can do when the baby is a newborn, there are many skills older kids can teach the new baby when he’s a little older! Big siblings can get on the floor and play with the baby during tummy time, they can sing or read stories to the baby, they can help teach the baby how to crawl or walk, and they can show the baby how to eat during mealtime. Children love to show off what they know, no matter what age they are! Give your children some instruction on what skills might be helpful to teach the little one, such as how to count to 10, how to drink from a sippy cup, or how to play with a ball. The more that older siblings are able to teach the new baby, the more grown-up and independent they’ll feel, and this can help cut down on sibling rivalry.
4. Celebrate small acts of kindness.
Learn to celebrate the little things. If you see your child engaging in a random act of kindness toward their younger sibling, give them plenty of praise and attention! Children thrive on doing behaviors that earn them praise and respect, so be sure to encourage all acts of kindness, no matter how small. When you see your child doing something nice for the younger sibling, verbally acknowledge the behavior and let them know how much it was appreciated and admired. Acts of kindness can be anything from singing to the baby when she’s crying, helping grab a toy for her that’s too far away, teaching the baby how to use a soft voice inside, helping feed the baby, or reading a story to the baby. Be sure that you also model what it’s like to be kind and caring to those around you - even though you’re probably exhausted. Take a deep breath, don’t sweat the small stuff, and make sure to create an environment where each child knows they’re loved and cherished.
5. Curb the competition.
Friendly competition can be good in some arenas, but at home, try to keep your children on an even playing field. Although it’s impossible to completely eliminate competitiveness between siblings, you can be responsible for creating a home environment where your children don’t feel the need to compete for your attention or praise. Be aware of the amount of times you blame accidents or mistakes on an older child simply because they’re older, and try your best not to compare siblings to one another (at least, not out loud). Catch yourself if you’re having a conversation with a friend or family member about how your baby is “easy,” and the older siblings are the “problem children.” Make time for one-on-one activities with each child, so that every person in the family knows their value.
As your children grow and mature, you can have family game nights, where the competition is encouraged but in a positive way. You can even put your children on teams to encourage them to work together, instead of against one another. After all, in life they’ll need to act as a team, too. Their friends may come and go, but they’ll always have each other!
Adding a new member to the family is never easy, but it is so worth it. As your family expands, so does your love and appreciation for each child’s unique personality and temperament. The more you can cut down on competition, and encourage cooperation, the more likely your children are to avoid sibling arguments and battles. Not every day will be perfect, but if you renew your goals and focus, you can propel your family toward success.
Parenting is awesome. Sleep is overrated. Every day is an adventure.
Meet Our KeaMommy Contributor: Kaitlyn Torrez
I’m Kaitlyn Torrez, from the San Francisco Bay Area. I live with my husband and two children, Roman and Logan. I’m a former preschool teacher, currently enjoying being a stay at home mom. I love all things writing, coffee, and chocolate. In my free time, I enjoy reading, blogging, and working out.