Encouraging your children to get on can be one of the hardest tasks at times, but equally will be one of the most rewarding to witness when they do play together nicely and help and support each other.
Introducing a new sibling to your firstborn is a sensitive task. They have got used to being the centre of your world and are now expected to share you with someone else. It's understandable that they may become upset and frustrated about their new siblings' arrival and empathizing with that is important to be able to work on, building a good relationship between your children.
Here are my top tips for harmony:
- Begin to build the bond while still pregnant with the new baby. Encourage your child to chat to your tummy, sing to it and feel your baby move if they want to. Talk to him about what will happen when the baby arrives to prepare him.
- Have a 'meet the baby' gift your older child can give to the baby on the first time he meets him and also buy a small gift that can be from the baby to your older child.
- Encourage any visitors who come to make an effort to talk to and involve your other child when they want to meet the baby. If they bring gifts for the baby, then something small like a magazine would be ideal for your toddler too.
- Encourage and involve your older child in the care and feeding of the baby where possible. Make him feel important by giving him special jobs to do and lots of praise for all of his efforts.
- Have special toys and books that come out during feeding time with the baby to keep your other child happy and entertained, so he doesn't feel left out in any way.
As the new baby gets older and begins to move around, this can be the time when rivalry begins. Your older child will not appreciate having a sibling crawling or walking into a carefully made or set up activity they have been enjoying. It's important you understand his frustration that this may happen frequently and prevent it, thus reducing the risk of a rivalry developing.
Top tips as your children get older and need to learn to play co-operatively:
- Provide activities that cater for both of your children's developmental needs. If there is a risk that your youngest child may not appreciate or understand the play activity then sit with them and be involved. Show them how to work together without arguing. If your older child watches how you engage your youngest child, then he will learn from example and be able to mimic that very soon.
- Try to make time each day where you have alone time with your eldest child even if it's only for 10 minutes without their younger sibling around. Make them feel special during your one to one time with them to reinforce that you still enjoy spending time with them, even though you are very busy with the baby for much of the day.
- Stay positive when your children seem to be struggling to get on. Listen and give them alternatives to rectify the breakdown they have with each other. Suggest new ways to continue the activity together where they both feel happy and important or distract to another activity if needed.
For many parents, any major sibling rivalry doesn't develop until their children are all over 5 years old and at school. At that age remember:
- It's normal for your children to not get on or even like each other occasionally! I'm sure there are times with your partner, that you don't agree with something they have said or done and feel particularly loving towards them. Accept their frustrations with each other and encourage time apart doing different activities, until they are ready to co-operate again.
- Understand that sometimes your eldest child needs some time out or alone time without his siblings following him around all the time. Encourage him to tell you when he needs that, rather than getting frustrated with his sibling.
- Teach them to treat others as they would like to be treated and if they would be unhappy with somebody acting in a certain way to them, then you don't expect to see them behaving that way to their sibling.
- Know when to intervene and when to let them try to resolve a disagreement between themselves. When you are needed to act as a referee, then listen to both sides of the story and try to stay neutral with your advice in how to resolve the situation.
Above all else teach them to always look out for each other when away from the family home. Encourage a bond that means they stick together and look out for each other when you are not around. If they can and are willing to do that, then you have done a pretty good job of teaching loyalty and family values to them for the future.