Role-play. You can foster healthy sibling relationships by setting your older child up to perform various roles, such as the following:
- The protector. Teach your older child that she has a responsibility to protect the younger one and that this includes modeling good behavior: "Be sure to pick up your toys, so that Baby doesn't fall over them and hurt himself." "Would you make sure that Baby doesn't crawl out of this room while mommy finishes cooking supper?"
- The helper. Helping one another can bring out the best in the helper and the one being helped. Doing good for each other promotes good relationships between siblings. The giver feels empowered and successful; the receiver feels cared for, valued, and loved. This builds social skills so that your children grow up knowing how to give and receive.
- The teacher. Older siblings shine when they pass a skill on to a younger one. Encourage your child to take on the role of teacher. When our Matthew took on the role of baseball coach to his younger brother, Stephen, they spent more time together and grew closer.
- The doctor. Encourage siblings to comfort one another. If your new baby gets an "owie" ask your older child to please put a Band-Aid on baby's scratch. The title "doctor" lets the older child see themselves in a compassionate, helpful role.
Another bit of P.R. (parental reminders) to use with your older child is to impress upon her the true meaning of "sister." Friends come and go, but siblings are forever. Our first two children, Jimmy and Bobby, squabbled a lot, especially in their early years, yet they eventually grew closer and closer. Now they are Dr. Jim and Dr. Bob, partners in the Sears Family Pediatric Practice, and friends forever.