When I learned that we would be having a second baby who would be only 22-23 months younger than my son, I was of course ecstatic but definitely nervous. Although I have a brother, he is six years younger than me, so I had no idea how having a sister so close in age would affect my son’s life. I also had no idea what it felt like to be a little sister, so I wanted to do everything I could to help my little ones have the best relationship possible.
We’re now 14 months into having two children, and although there have been various stages in my children’s relationship with each other due to age and development, I have definitely found some key guidelines that help my babies have what I think is a wonderful relationship. Here they are:
1. Model how you hope your children will treat each other.
If you want your children to speak to each other in an affectionate way, the only way they will naturally do it is by following your example. I love to hear my three year old using my phrases and tone of voice in private moments with his sister. Hearing him say things in a kind voice like “It’s okay, little one” or “Don’t worry, baby. I can help you” just melts my heart. When I feel like snapping in a moment of frustration, I always think about how the words and tone I am about to use would sound coming out of one of my kids’ mouths being directed toward the other.
2. Give them space to play together on their own with as little interference from you as possible.
It can be challenging to let little ones play together on their own when you are worried about the littler one getting hurt, but it is amazing to see how even very young children can work through problems and find ways to get along with enough time and space.
3. Spend dedicated one on one time with each child.
I know how crazy life can be with two small children, but I really believe it is the quality of the time – and not the quantity of time – that matters when it comes to one on one time. Whether it’s snuggling and reading books together in the early morning hours while your other child sleeps, or singing songs and playing while changing a diaper, it’s the little moments that count the most. I do at least one real mama and son date a month too. We really look forward to pajama story time at the library and frozen yogurt dates in the summer. When your children feel like they don’t have to compete with their sibling for your attention all the time, they are less likely to transfer negative feelings to their sibling.
4.Let each child have space that is all his or her own.
I don’t force our kids to share everything with each other. My son uses his bedroom as his safe space where he knows he can set up Lego buildings and intricate car parades all over the floor without his sister knocking them down. When he gets to play on his own in his safe space, I find that he is much more likely to share with his sister outside of that space and initiate playing with her.
5. Manage your expectations.
When one of your children is still a baby, it is amazing how your perspective shifts and you start to think of your first child as so much older and more capable than he actually is. Be careful not to have unrealistic expectations for your older child. If she is at the age when sharing is a brand new concept, you can’t expect her to intrinsically want to suddenly share everything with a baby.
6. Put out toys that both children can use equally.
It comes in very handy to have boxes of toys and activities that one child will not always dominate. For example, I leave out boxes of musical instruments (drums, cymbals, shakers, rhythm sticks, etc.), sensory tables filled with wooden blocks, and bags of books that would be eye-catching to both kids. These kinds of toys lend themselves to more natural cooperation and easy fun for children of different ages.
7. Don’t put pressure on your older child.
I think it’s a lot to ask of a young child to be a role model. I personally don’t ask my three year old to be a role model for his sister, but I do like to point out to him whenever he does something that makes my daughter feel happy or when she copies his actions. Children have the propensity and inclination to be kind and responsible when they are not forced. Encouragement and awareness go a long way.
8. Help your children create roles for each other.
When I notice that something my daughter is doing is starting to bother my son, I often step in to create a kind of storyline for what is happening. For instance, my son used to have a really hard time when my daughter would want to touch a little vehicle that he likes to ride, but once I suggested she is a mechanic, he began to naturally incorporate her into his vehicle games. Now, if she approaches his ride on car, he finds all different roles for her, and whether she is a mechanic, gas attendant, or car washer, I can rest easy knowing that what was once a point of contention is now an opportunity for fun for both of them.
How do you encourage your children’s relationship with each other?
* This article is written by Charise Rohm Nulsen for her blog, “I Thought I Knew Mama.”