Navigating respectful parenting with siblings can be difficult. Here’s something I learned that really transformed how my son (now 5 year old) interacts with his younger sister (2.5 years old) and in turn helps me be the best parent I can be:
Explain how their actions influence their siblings.
That’s it. It may be obvious to some but it wasn’t something instinctive to me. I knew my influence but didn’t think to explain his.
The trick is to consistently describe how what they do teaches there sibling to (re)act a certain way. Watch then, how over time they help – because they want to help – and because they see how it does work.
For example Cameron (5) didn’t want to share his stamps with Lucy (2.5). I explained to Cam that if he shares with Lucy, that would help her learn to share.
Another example: Cam got frustrated because Lucy wasn’t listening to him. He started getting angry and yelling at her. I explained that yelling at her could teach her to that when we aren’t getting our way we yell.
This shows them that their actions and reactions have power and gives them tools while also explaining the why and how.
It’s important to remember the tone. We don’t want it to have a blaming undertone – “if you don’t share, she won’t” or “if you hurt her, she will do it back” – rather than explaining how they can help.
Saying “[insert name] is still learning how to [play kindly/share/express themselves], how can we [show them/help them]?” or similar will have a much more positive response and outcome.
I’m always careful to word things so that Cam knows that it is NOT his responsibility to parent Lucy and that while he has influence, it is not his ‘duty’. But I think that the distinction that their actions impact and help to guide behaviours is important.
Children love to help. Cameron loves knowing that what he does can help me and help teach his sister. Often the direct consequence plays out right in front of them (i.e. Lucy angrily reply to his yelling) so they can learn in the moment.
It’s never perfect. It’s not about quick fixes or getting it ‘right’ every time. But ultimately it’s helped us positively and I wanted to share that with you!
Thank you for reading!