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Siblings

In this guide:
  • Adjusting to a new baby
  • Birth order, explained
  • Making the most of sibling spacing
  • Ending fights
  • Summary

Overview

Friend. Playmate. Confidant. Those are just a few of the wonderful roles siblings can play in each other's lives. But growing your family comes with many questions, too. How far apart should you space your kids? What should you do to prepare your child for a new baby? And, later, how do you get your kids to stop squabbling? Read on for answers.

Adjusting to a new baby

To lessen your older child's confusion and anxiety:

1. When you bring the baby home, have someone else carry her into the house and keep your arms available for a big hug from your older child. Or arrange for him to be away when you first get there so that when he comes in, you're settled and ready for him.

2. Show your child his own baby pictures (both before and after his new sibling is born) and tell him how he acted when he was small. You can say that he cried a lot because he couldn't talk and that Mommy and Daddy had to pay a lot of attention to him. Emphasize that though the baby will take up a lot of your time, she'll eventually be a big kid just like her brother.

3. Appoint your child the baby's protector. Explain that it's his job to make sure that people are very gentle with the baby's fingers and toes. He'll feel important and get the basics of newborn safety.

4. Invite him to have a snack when you feed the baby, and let him hold up a book for you to read to him. Store a small stash of treats and books in a spot he can reach.


Birth order, explained

Certainly, many individual traits and tendencies among brothers and sisters are the products of a unique arrangement of genes. But birth order can also play a key role in shaping a child's personality. Here's what to expect:

Firstborns

Advantages:

All that undivided attention an oldest child gets can translate into a highly successful individual.

Challenges:

The strengths of the firstborn can also become obstacles. For instance, a child who's a natural leader can have trouble making and keeping friends if she's always bossing them around. Firstborns can also become perfectionists because they often put pressure on themselves to succeed or because of scrutiny they're subjected to by doting parents, who, though well-meaning, may focus on tiny flaws.

How you can help:

Avoid correcting minor imperfections. If your child's bedspread is crooked, don't straighten it. Brush off mistakes with a "Good try." And show how you can roll with the punches yourself  -- accept compliments gracefully, apologize when you've made a mistake, and let your child know when something didn't go as you'd planned.

Middle kids

Advantages:

A child who has an older and a younger sibling has someone to learn from and someone she can nurture  -- and she has two playmates. Like her older sibling, she has the opportunity to be a leader and build her self-confidence. As one of three (or more) kids, she'll learn how to share, listen to others, and join in activities  -- so she'll probably get along well with others.

Challenges:

Middle kids may feel left out and overlooked, and may be anxious and insecure. If this pattern continues throughout childhood, it can make a child less likely to speak up for herself.

How you can help:

Work hard to make a middle child feel special. Try to spend at least some time alone with her every day  -- and with each of your kids. A ten-minute cuddle at bedtime in a child's room goes a long way. Also ask her opinion about things to help build her confidence.

Babies

Advantages:

Like the middle child, the youngest benefits from having more relaxed parents and older siblings to follow. He's also exposed to more than other kids his age because he's watched his brothers and sisters develop and reach milestones. Since he wants to be like them, he'll insist on doing things by himself.

Challenges:

Because the family may be more lax with the youngest, he may have difficulty respecting authority later on. And since people often take over for him, he may become too dependent on others and struggle with handling his own problems. He may also feel less competent than his older siblings  -- though he learns from them, they can still do much more than he can.

How you can help:

Step in if your baby's being bullied  -- kids need help developing the skills to work it out. If your kindergartner's dominating the dinner conversation, ask your preschooler to share his day. Give him responsibilities  -- even a small task like helping to clear the dishes will be beneficial. Let him hear you remind older siblings that they also used to take longer to put their coats on and had a tough time learning to play Candy Land.


Making the most of sibling spacing

To help kids of various age differences thrive and get along:

If they're one year apart...
Make this age gap work to your advantage. For instance, introduce new concepts, like potty training, to both kids at once. Your younger child may not be ready just yet, but the sneak preview-and the example of a big sib  -- may help him make the leap sooner.

If they're two years apart...
Since they're so close in age, transitions for one may be tough on the other. Try to ease your younger child through changes  -- like a big sister starting kindergarten  -- by signing him up for a class (like music or swimming), too. And be sensitive to the fact that a 2-year-old is going through his own big-kid transitions, which can be thrown off by the arrival of a baby.

If they're three years apart...
Teach your kids to work out disputes on their own. When your 6-year-old is about to hit the 3-year-old, it's obvious that some parental guidance is called for. But helping your children learn to handle minor quarrels themselves  -- deciding who gets to use the red crayon, for instance  -- saves you the hassle of always having to step in.

If they're four or more years apart...
Have fun  -- together and apart. Try to figure out at least one activity  -- such as camping, riding bikes, or hanging out at the beach  -- that everyone can enjoy together. Then make sure to schedule time to do age-appropriate activities with each of your kids individually.


Ending sibling fights

  • Try to let them resolve the issue on their own so they learn to negotiate. But step in if there's a real possibility of harm.
  • If you do need to intervene, try not to get in the middle. Let each child express his complaints without whining, then help them figure out a way to come to a resolution they'll both be happy with. For example, when it comes time to split something (say, a cookie), suggest that one child do the splitting and the other child gets to choose.
  • Don't respond to tattling. It'll only encourage the tattler to tell on his sibling more.
  • If all else fails, use bright yellow-and-black caution tape to divide their play space, and tell them they can't cross to the other one's side of the room. Make believe you're arriving at the scene of a crime and the giggles should help them forget what they were fighting about!

Summary

Besides love and support, siblings provide constant practice for relating to others. Paying attention to each child's needs, and giving them each some one-on-one time, goes a long way toward helping your kids build the confidence they need to succeed in life. And by teaching kids to resolve squabbles on their own, you help them learn important problem-solving and relationship skills, as well as bring them closer as siblings.


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