Eleven-year-old Steven is reading National Geographic. His five-year-old brother, Edward, hovers around him, looking at the photos but really just wanting to be near his big brother. As mother Kendra Long* recalls, the conversation went like this:
Steven: Stop that!
Edward (continues lurking)
Steven: You always do that, and you’re annoying me! Go away!
That’s when Long jumped in: “I told him, ‘I think you’ve broken your little brother’s heart!’”
Long reminded Steven about the times he tried to read the newspaper over his father’s shoulder, and how hurt he’d felt when his dad complained. Steven got it quickly and made an effort to share the magazine with Edward, pointing to the pictures and reading out the captions.
Younger children and older siblings
Younger children tend to adore their older siblings. They’re impressed with what they can do, and they are eager for a little attention and affection. The older kids, of course, are far less impressed. They resent having to wait for little ones who want to do little-kid stuff on family outings, they resent little kids trailing after them and hate it when small hands get into their precious things. Parents find it hard to hit the right balance that meets older and younger kids’ needs.
*Names changed by request
Tips from parents who’ve been there
Carly Hamilton* says that while it’s challenging, she thinks it’s worth the effort. “I keep in my mind that the siblings will have each other for most of their lives — it’s the longest possible family relationship — so I really want them to learn to be compassionate with each other.” Some of the things Hamilton and Long try to do:
• Acknowledge the older child’s feelings. Yes, it’s annoying to have to wait for your little sister to ride the carousel at the theme park when all you want to do is get to the roller coaster. This is part of being a family, though.
• Compliment them on helping things to go smoothly, when everyone is getting along.
• Suggest ways of modifying the activity so that the younger child can be included, when possible. For example, if your 10-year-old is making a craft, your five-year-old might be happy to sit beside her and do some cutting and pasting of her own. Or if the older child is playing cards with Mom and Dad, maybe the younger child could be part of Mom’s “team” with the important task of holding the cards.
• Make sure that each child gets enough focused, one-to-one time with parents, so that jealousy doesn’t become part of the issue.
• Keep the younger child busy and occupied if the older child is working on a special project or has friends over.
• Provide a special place for the older child to keep things he or she doesn’t want the younger child to touch — a high shelf, a closet with a childproof lock on the handle, a locked box.
Long adds: “I also think it’s important to be a good example. Often we, as parents, are impatient with our older children for tagging along, or when we have to wait for them — and then we’re surprised if they do the same thing to their younger siblings. If we’re more tolerant, they will be too.”
*Names changed by request
Stay in touch
Subscribe to Today's Parent's daily newsletter for our best parenting news, tips, essays and recipes.