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How to Raise Children Who Love Each Other
Rivalry is inevitable when you have more than one child, but it can be controlled. In fact a parent’s guidance plays a key role in whether conflicts are worked out before they do permanent damage to sibling relationships.
STARTING OUT RIGHT
An addition to the family isn’t necessarily a joyful occasion for everyone. Firstborns have been used to the spotlight and may feel jealous and worried that they are being replaced. Here are some tactics you can use to help kids get through it:
- Prepare your child ahead of time. Get her acquainted with the idea of a new sibling before the baby’s born. Let your child pat Mom’s stomach, feel the kicks, talk to the baby, and with older children, you can show them the ultrasound photos. And get her ready for the extra time and attention an infant will require by going through her baby photo album together and telling her all about the things she needed when she was an infant, like feeding and diaper changes.
- Play up her importance. Even kids as young as two, love helping their Mom and Dad. Once the baby’s born, give your child jobs that let her feel like she has a key role in taking care of her new sibling. Allow her to bring you the baby’s clothes or hold the diaper during changes, and thank her for her help.
- Don’t leave her out. Keep a few small gifts for your child on hand for those times when visitors lavish presents and attention on the baby. Let her unwrap the baby’s gifts and test the rattles. If someone admires the baby, add, “Yes, we now have two beautiful children.”
- Show her the benefits of being older. If your child regresses to babyish behavior, which is a common reaction, show her why being an infant might not be so much fun. You could tell her something like “babies cannot eat peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches, and I know those are your favorite.”
- Make the time. Competing for a parent’s attention with a new brother or sister can be tough, especially for kids under 3, for whom sharing is a foreign concept. Don’t’ promise a child equal time; the truth is that new babies require a lot of maintenance. Instead, put your baby in a sling or an infant seat so you have two free hands for reading or playing a game with the older sibling. Also arrange for your child to go on one-on-one outings with Dad or a relative, or have Dad watch the baby while Mom takes her out for ice cream or to the park.
AS THEY GROW
- Learning to live with a sibling is a child’s first lesson in getting along with older kids. How you handle the day-to-day dilemmas sets the tone for siblings’ interactions to help keep conflicts under control.
- Diffuse and distract. When a conflict arises, the best form of action is to distract the child with an activity he enjoys. Even if the child is angry, he will be caught off guard by the suggestion and so excited with or about the prospect of playing his favorite game, that he’ll forget he was ever upset.
- Ignore small squabbles. The best way to handle minor problems is to stay out of them. If your kids are young and the fight is over an object, like a toy, you can put the toy in a safe place until a plan to share it is made. With preschoolers, have them handle it themselves. Simply say, “I’ll be back in one minute. If you haven’t figured out how to share the toy, neither of you can play with it.” This conveys the message that you respect their ability to work it out themselves, but if they don’t, you will.
- Set clear limits. Hurting one another, either with words or physical force, should be non-negotiable. And never let one child be a bully.
DEVELOPING STRONG BONDS
The key to nurturing lifelong friendships is to help your children be sensitive to each other’s needs and feelings and to treat each other with respect. Some ways to accomplish this:
- Encourage them to care for and depend on one another. For instance, ask your 6-year-old to entertain a younger sibling while you change a diaper or give a bath. Even a toddler can be supervised to gently hold and pat an infant. This motivates the older child to care for his sibling—a feeling that the younger one will sense.
- Ask them to teach each other. When one sibling takes the time to show another how to do something, it builds mutual respect and affection. The child who’s learning will see that his sibling cares enough to help him, and the sibling who’s teaching will gain selfesteem from seeing his brother benefit from his guidance.
- Foster a team spirit. Assign siblings tasks that require cooperation, such as household chores like setting the table or folding the clothes. Adding a shared reward will encourage teamwork.
- Promote empathy. If a sibling is either physically or emotionally hurt, encourage the other to offer comfort. Help children learn to think about how their behavior is going to affect one another. The ability to see oneself in another person’s shoes in an important social skill that kids begin to learn by interacting with siblings.
So even when siblings are competing for attention, arguing with each other, or not talking at all, it is important to remember that one of the most important jobs parents have is to help their children become lifelong friends. Siblings share a special bond — friends can come and go; siblings remain forever!
~ Cariño Early Childhood News