Hi ladies--I'm an only child, so I have no experience with this sibling thing. About to have #2--a boy--and my daughter is 3.
Advice about how to ensure, as much as possible, that they get along as kids and hopefully are friends as adults? I would love to hear of your experiences with your own siblings & parents or with your children. For some reason I feel like it might have been easier if they were both girls or both boys...my mom always talks about how annoying her little brother was, and they are not super close as adults. So advice on that issue is helpful too.
FWIW, as much as my siblings and I (3 girls and 1 boy) irritated and harrassed each other as kids, we are all adults now and have reasonably close and loving relationships with each other, and enjoy each other's company.
Nothing is guaranteed in life, but there are things my parents did, and things I want to do with my kids, that give a better chance for good sibling relationships.
Primarily, understanding that annoying/picking at each other is going to happen, and is normal....parents can do a great deal of good by not allowing that to become ongoing bullying and by helping children learn how to work out differences peacefully rather than fighting.
My boys argue and tussle a lot, but they are also each other's best friends and love each other very much. My rules are very basic: We do not abuse each other in this family. End of story.
Deliberate injury of a sibling is absolutely unacceptable, ever. Punishable offense.
Injury through thoughtlessness or carelessness also gets consequences, though not as dire and the injured one is encouraged to forgive and be understanding that it was a mistake and no something to hold grudges over.
Denigration and verbal bullying is always unacceptable. The minute I hear a conversation going in that direction, their life stops while we deal with what is going on and find a better way to manage whatever it is that is upsetting someone and prompting those words.
On the other side of that, if I see a child starting to want to play the victim/martyr role, and cultivating bitterness, I also deal with that attitude privately with the child.
Other than that, I spend a lot of time talking my children up to each other, pointing out their good sides, the kind things they've done, how much fun they are, and encourage my kids to speak about each other in the same way, and to think about how wonderful it is to have their brothers. We had a neat conversation last year, about what life would be like without their brothers. My youngest was 4 at the time, and had been struggling to find his place with his brothers, and sometimes being overly agressive with them, but he actually cried a little at the thought of being alone, without his brothers. It was a very sweet moment, and we have those, once in a while. :)
The whole sibling rivalry thing used to terrify me when I was pregnant with my son. I haven't even spoken to my own brother in years don't intend to change that. We seem to be on the right track so far, though.
My daughter was 5 when my son was born. There was a little jealousy in the beginning. After 5 years of being the center of attention, I would have been surprised if she wasn't jealous. I think what made the biggest difference for her when he first came into her life was letting her know how special and important the role of big sister is. We talked a lot about what it meant to be a big sister and had her help out whenever possible, even when what she wanted to help out with would have been easier for me to do on my own. She has changed a lot of wet diapers (with my help in the beginning). She wasn't exactly quick and I was kind of paranoid about him peeing everywhere (which he did a lot), but I tried not to make a big deal out of it, and she was very proud that she was able to change diapers. She bragged to everyone. It made her feel pretty grown up. Nursing him posed a problem because there wasn't really anything for her to do (though she insisted that it would be "better" if she held the breast for him. lol), so I came up with things for her to do like getting me a drink because I needed lots of water to make him milk so getting me a drink was really helping out with that, and getting me a cloth or a clean nursing pad. Then we'd cuddle and talk while he nursed (until he got old enough to be distracted by it). I also taught her his lullaby and had her help me sing to him, and we talked about the lullaby I used to sing to her. That was her special lullaby and she'd sing it to him (she still does) by herself. Holding him was really important to her, but it made me incredibly nervous (still does, though not quite so much since he's considerably less fragile now). I set specific boundaries (she could hold him, but only on the couch by the arm, and only with me on the other side of her), and made a point of keeping my new mommy nervousness in check. Now that she's a little bigger and stronger, and he's bigger and able to hold onto her, she frequently carries him around the house. He's nearly as likely to ask her to pick him up as he is to ask me. Setting aside one on one time for her and I has been really important, though there have been many, many times that it's been difficult to accomplish (single mom). She has really needed that, though. Bringing her back into the family bed helped a lot. We also trade off on reading (or making up) bedtime stories. Some evenings I do it. Some evenings she does it. DD has been reading to him since we came home from the hospital and these days he asks her (and only her) to read to him. Sometimes he brings her a picture book and she'll make up a brand new silly story to go with the pictures. We also have family toys instead of separate toys (though they each have a couple special items that don't have to be shared as long as they aren't left out), and we've worked a lot on sharing. So far they both do really well with that.
DD is nearly 7 now and DS is almost 17 months. I don't know how it will be when they're older, but as it stands right now, they are best friends. DS practically worships her, and though she sometimes gets annoyed with him, she adores him just as much and hates to be away from him. We've definitely had our moments of jealousy and inappropriate behaviors, but paying attention and nipping it in the bud by talking with her and making sure she has what she needs (whether it be emotionally or tools to handle annoying little brother behaviors) has kept our family pretty happy and mellow for the most part. We've talked a lot from the beginning about what stage he is at developmentally and where he will probably be soon, so that she knows what to expect, and that seems to help.
I can't say that I've handled everything perfectly (who does?), and again, I don't know if they'll always be so close, but it seems to be heading in the right direction so far. Best advice I can give is to let her be as involved as you can, don't let her needs go unmet if it's at all possible even if the needs in question don't seem very important in comparison to everything else on your plate, and if you're feeling overwhelmed, find a way to take a break, because your needs are important, too. Good luck.
Siblings Without Rivalry is a excellent resource. I keep it on the back of my toilet for constant reference. My oldest two kids are almost 4 years apart, both girls, and for several years when they were younger, I very proudly thought that the fighting and intense rivalry that I remember very well from my own childhood with my sister was not going to happen in my family. Ha! Yep, didn't work out that way. It is non stop fighting, from the time they wake up until they go to bed. Exactly what my sister and I did. And oddly enough my second daughter turned out to be a carbon copy of my sister, who I am still not fond of as an adult, life just loves to throw curveballs at you. I know the tricks, I go over that book all the time, try different things. What is the most helpful for those two kids is to minimize their time together because it is mostly personality conflicts, they are polar opposites of course, so we have some time with them, break them up, more time together, maybe a friend over for one. Changing it up allows to to spend more quality time together instead of quantity. I've got two younger boys, time will just tell how things will end up with them.
I like Siblings Without Rivalry, too.
My DDs are now teens and generally get a long pretty. We know families with a daughter and son who get along well, and families with kids of the same gender who don't get along, so I really don't think gender determines much.
My advice is to find ways to have fun together as a family. Different things work at different stages. The zoo, board games, going on picnics, etc. I think kids in families that enjoy spending time all together are more likely to get along with their sibs than kids in families who don't have fun together (and you'd be surprised how many families don't make Family Fun a priority)
As a baby, options are pretty limited. When my youngest was a baby, I used to tell my older DD to pick out a good toy for her to play with. My older DD was just a toddler, but she liked laying toys near her new sister. It was a helpful diversion when DD#2 started crawling and grabbing things that her sister wasn't quite ready for her to touch. She could pick out other toys for her.
I have a happy memory of my second DD laying on blanket in the living room while I was cooking dinner. I walked in and there was a circle of stuff animals all around her, put there by her big sister. It was so sweet! I wish I had taken a picture.
Congratulations on your growing family -- I hope your birth goes easily!
but everything has pros and cons
I have a boy and a girl with a 3-year difference in age. They are teens now (18 and 15 y.o.). They have their moments, but usually they get along very well. He is older, and often invites her along when he and his friends go to all-ages events. He always promises me that he will look out for her and take care of her. It's sweet.
I think it helps to foster a general environment in the home where you all - adults to adults, adults to children, children to children and children to adults - treat each other with respect and kindness. Sharing, helping each other, taking an interest even if the topic or the activity isn't something you would normally spend a second thinking about...that sort of thing. I place fairly high value on simple politeness - saying "please" and "thank you" and "you are welcome" to each other. We also place an emphasis on working out issues and negotiation when conflicts arise, although those are skills that develop later in childhood. I'm sure it helps that they have overlapping interests and taste in clothes and music and books, and personalities that mesh well.
I would caution you against turning your older child into an unpaid, unappreciated mommy's helper. Some children really resent it (my sister did). I think it's a good idea to involve an older sibling in caring for a new baby, but I would be careful about it. It can turn into an area of resentment. It's easy to start taking the older child for granted and forget to express appreciation and gratitude for their assistance.
Best wishes with your expanding family!
Agreed. I also think that some parents sabotage their kids relationship by inadvertently playing favorites -- always letting the little one win games, do fewer chores, win every argument, etc. OR being all about the older child while the youngest is just along for the ride. From watching other families, I think parents are more likely to favor the child who is in their same place in the birth order. How things need to work out to be best for the kids is a moving target -- parenting a baby and 3 year old is way different than a 3 year old and a 6 year old. Seem people really expect the world of their first child -- at 2 or 3, they expect them to be little helper because they are so much bigger than the baby. But then when their younger child gets to be the same age as the older one was a birth, they still have the older child doing all sorts of things for them because the older child now seem so competent.
but everything has pros and cons
I've got a 7 yo and 5 yo and they have been the best of friends since the youngest was about 18 months (able to engage with the older one in a meaningful way.) They rarely fight - like once every few days, at which point DH and I separate them and give them time apart to do their own things - or one of us hangs out with one while the other hangs out with the other child. After a half hour, they are good to go again.
The bad news - I don't think you can do much to ensure this happens. I think a lot of it is luck of the draw. I just happened to get a boy first, who happens to be gentle and sensitive, and a girl next, who happens to be racing to catch up to her brother, and laid back enough to let him get his way and be a boss most of the time. So it just lucked out. If the were born in the opposite order, or had different personalities they would probably be killing each other constantly!
The good news - there are some obvious things you can do to help them get along. I'd say quality one on one time with each. One gets your total attention at least once a week. Mostly paying attention to one, but having the other there as well doesn't count.
Don't interfere if they do start to fight. Instead in the beginning, just give suggestions on how they can compromise or solve the problem, and then let them deal with it. The younger may get the ripped off end a bit more, because they are younger, but as long as it is not totally imbalanced, let them work it out most of the time.
Never, ever, ever compare them to each other. And always treat them as very unique people. Yes, DD can write really well, but DS is great with math problems, playing chess... whatever. Encourage their uniqueness. That way they are not going to be competing with each other.
If they like to sleep together, let them. My DS and DD have their own rooms, but when DD left our bed she went to DS, and they love sleeping together. I'm sure this will change eventually, but right now it works.
My daughters (3 & 4) are great friends, but they also both have strong personalities, and there is quite a bit of fighting at our house. I don't just sit by and let my kids deal with problems. If they knew how to solve them and were capable of using that knowledge in the heat of the moment, there wouldn't be a fight going on.
I LOVE the Siblings Without Rivalry book, and I feel like it shows how to coach kids through situations and sympathize with their feelings instead of being a referee. My younger daughter is a stickler for being spoken to politely (hilariously awesome in a 3-year-old) and sometimes I just have to remind the older DD that if she talks nicely, DD2 is up for most anything.