By Tracy Lamperti,
Psychotherapist, Educator, Consultant
Whether your children are twins, 13 months apart or 5 years apart, they can be best friends into old age!
1. Define your intentions. – ex. My children will be kind to each other, look out for each other and have fun together.
2. Examine your beliefs and stereotypes and see how they are interfering with how you parent your children. – ex. Nobody’s children get along. Someday when they are older they will start getting along better.
3. Develop actions that match your intentions.
Key Actions that Help Facilitate Positive Sibling Relationships
#1 – Parents as Primary Role Models
1. Show your children by example with their other parent and other adults in their life that people treat people kindly. We don’t scream at each other, talk over each other, storm around or lose our temper as a general rule. On the occasion where you handle something poorly, demonstrate that when you love someone, you return to the battle ground and work it out calmly.
2. Show your children by example that you, as the parent, maintain a healthy temperament under stress. Most parents can give at least a few examples where they have handled a situation with their child the wrong way. That is understandable and expectable. Let those times be the exception. Get the support (or rest) that you need so that these are the exceptions. The primary reason for parents losing their cool with their child is that the parent doesn’t have enough strategies to deal with typical pesky child behavior. Parents tend to scream at and wack a child when they don’t have a good set of plans and resources up their sleeve.
#2 – Time and Value
I firmly believe that there is just no time for TV. Well, just a little bit of time. To have a felt sense of value in the family, children need your time. This does not mean scheduling your children for every possible activity and accompanying them. It means getting down on the floor and building something with them, or having them pound a piece of dough while you make dinner, or walking on the beach. Each child needs their own time and family time. They need to learn how to share and get along, and they need to know that their individual needs and desires are important to you as well.
#3 – Winning Teams Have Awesome Leaders
A family is like a team. The leader sets the tone. If the leader is stressed, an ineffective communicator, depressed or absent a majority of the time, the team won’t know what to do. Parents should work together, pay attention, adjust the atmosphere according to the family needs. Develop a list of the “10 Commandments of This Family” or maybe it is “3 Basic Rules that this Family Never Breaks.” Maybe it is a list of qualities of the family, like a “Family Crest.” If there is a rule, No TV During Dinner, then, no TV during dinner. Think carefully about the rules you set because they shouldn’t be broken by anyone, even you.
#4 – Working Together to Accomplish a Goal
Children who succeed are children who have a great support system. If 3 year old Julie is having trouble counting to 10, the whole family makes a commitment to help her achieve that goal. Mom helps her count out 10 carrot sticks, her 5 year old brother lines up matchbox cars for counting, Daddy comes home and has her count how many times Rover barks to say hello to Daddy.
#5 – Everyone Needs Down Time
Children, like adults, need their own space and their own things. There needs to be a balance between cheerfully giving your time when you would rather be alone, and, being alone. Older children need to be taught that they are of value to a younger child. They might want to shake that younger child off, but you can help them learn the rewards of giving their time and that this gift will come back to them in a closer relationship with their sibling. Assure them that it is not about you needing them to “babysit” and that you will shelter their time as well and make sure the younger sibling has other things to do.
#6 – Fairly Unfair
Children need to learn early on that they are not the center of the universe. Life is not always fair. Sometimes a sibling requires more attention. Sometimes two get punished when in fact one did start it. The
most important part is for parents to remember not to favor one child over the other and not to take sides. This serves to break down the healthy relationship with the parent AND the relationship between the siblings. Ensure children that you know that each of them have strengths and things they need to improve. In fact, one child might have a particularly challenging temperament. Encourage their sibling that if they learn to handle it properly, they will be gaining important skills for life.
#7 – Family Time
Have many family times that are sacred, or set apart from the ordinary. Whether it is a family vacation, dinner times, game night, etc., make it a time when arguing or fighting is not permitted. Remember, it is the parents that set the tone for the family.
Most people don’t like to admit it, but the natural tendency is NOT to get along, but to conflict. People, and
particularly children are self-centered. If you want your children to be best friends, you have to believe that they CAN be best friends and then make actions that will match your intentions.
Please see www.tracylamperti.com for more information about working with children and families.
If you would like 1:1 assistance, please contact Tracy Lamperti for a consultation.
Tracy Lamperti, LMHC, BCETS
By Elizabeth Pantley, Author of the No-Cry Sleep Solution and Gentle Baby Care
Question: Our first-born is showing extreme jealousy towards the new baby. He’s obviously mad at us for disrupting the predictable flow of his life with this new challenger for our attention. How can we smooth things out?
Think about it: Before the baby entered your family, your toddler was told he’d have a wonderful little brother to play with, and how much fun it would be. Then the little brother is born and your toddler is thinking, “Are you kidding me? This squirming, red-faced baby that takes up all your time and attention is supposed to be FUN?” He then “plays” with the baby in the only ways he knows how. He plays catch. You yell at him for throwing toys at the baby. He plays hide-and-seek. You yell at him to get the blanket off the baby. He gives the kid a hug, and you admonish him to be more careful. Is it any wonder that your toddler is confused?
Teach:Your first goal is to protect the baby. Your second, to teach your older child how to interact with his new sibling in proper ways. You can teach your toddler how to play with the baby in the same way you teach him anything else. Talk to him, demonstrate, guide and encourage. Until you feel confident that you’ve achieved your second goal, however, do not leave the children alone together. Yes, I know. It isn’t convenient. But it is necessary, maybe even critical.
Hover:Whenever the children are together, “hover” close by. If you see your child about to get rough, pick up the baby and distract the older sibling with a song, a toy, an activity or a snack. This action protects the baby while helping you avoid a constant string of “Nos,” which may actually encourage the aggressive behavior.
Teach soft touches: Teach the older sibling how to give the baby a back rub. Tell how this kind of touching calms
the baby, and praise the older child for a job well done. This lesson teaches the child how to be physical with the baby in a positive way.
Act quickly: Every time you see your child hit, or act roughly with the baby, act quickly. You might firmly
announce, “No hitting, time out.” Place the child in a time-out chair with the statement, “You can get up when you can use your hands in the right way.” Allow him to get right up if he wants – as long as he is careful and gentle with the
baby. This isn’t punishment, after all. It’s just helping him learn that rough actions aren’t going to be permitted.
Demonstrate: Children learn what they live. Your older child will be watching as you handle the baby and learning from your actions. You are your child’s most important teacher. You are demonstrating in everything you do, and your child will learn most from watching you.
Praise: Whenever you see the older child touching the baby gently, make a positive comment. Make a big fuss about the important “older brother.” Hug and kiss your older child and tell him how proud you are.
Watch your words: Don’t blame everything on the baby. “We can’t go to the park; the baby’s sleeping.” “Be quiet, you’ll wake the baby.” “After I change the baby I’ll help you.” At this point, your child would just as soon sell the
baby! Instead, use alternate reasons. “My hands are busy now.” “We’ll go after lunch.” “I’ll help you in three
Be supportive: Acknowledge your child’s unspoken feelings, such as “Things sure have changed with the new baby
here. It’s going to take us all some time to get used to this.” Keep your comments mild and general. Don’t
say, “I bet you hate the new baby.” Instead, say, “It must be hard to have Mommy spending so much time with the baby.”or “I bet you wish we could go to the park now, and not have to wait for the baby to wake up.” When your child knows that you understand her feelings, she’ll have less need to act up to get your attention.
Give extra love: Increase your little demonstrations of love for your child. Say extra I love yous, increase your daily dose of hugs, and find time to read a book or play a game. Temporary regressions or behavior problems are normal, and can be eased with an extra dose of time and attention.
Get ‘em involved: Teach the older sibling how to be helpful with the baby or how to entertain the baby. Let the
older sibling open the baby gifts and use the camera to take pictures of the baby. Teach him how to put the baby’s socks on. Let him sprinkle the powder. Praise and encourage whenever possible.
Making each feel special: Avoid comparing siblings, even about seemingly innocent topics such as birth weight, when each first crawled or walked, or who had more hair! Children can interpret these comments as criticisms.
Take a deep breath and be calm. This is a time of adjustment for everyone in the family. Reduce outside activities, relax your housekeeping standards, and focus on your current priority, adjusting to your new family size.
Excerpted with permission by NTC/Contemporary Publishing Group Inc. from Perfect Parenting, The Dictionary of 1,000 Parenting Tips by Elizabeth Pantley, copyright 1999
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