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!
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I find this while working in childcare. When the kids say things like “it’s not fair X gets to do Y, why can’t I?” I’ll often respond with “they’re still learning how to do Z instead of Y, you already know how to do Z, can you help me show them how to do it, too?”. It has mixed results depending on the desirability of Y over Z and the relationship between the kids, I suspect it would be more meaningful with siblings where they’ve got strong relationships already.
This couldn’t come at a better time. I’m overwhelmed at beginning our Montessori at home journey and research while dealing with a toddler and preschooler daily. Thanks!
Love! I think I’ve actually been trying to do this since my daughter was born. My son (4) is actually quite caring and gentle with her (now 1.5) though he does loose patience at times! I’m an only child and navigating the sibling relationship has been totally foreign to me. This is a very encouraging reminder :) (Love your blog, by the way! Just discovered it.)
Great post Rachel :) A nice reminder to make sure I am wording my directions to my five year old in way that he feels like he is helping :)
Ness - One Perfect Day says
Great tips. I love this gentle and respectful approach.
Andi (hippyhappymama) says
What a helpful article! I love your examples and although it seems simple I think this is something that is very important to cultivate in a mindful family.
What an interesting way of looking at things, I think I will try this with my twins as they are currently driving me nuts with their behaviour! Thanks for the insight and I agree that tone can mean so much!