Recently I have felt like the girls are entering a new phase of sibling-hood. Yesterday the three of us had a great time playing at our local gymnastics centre and then went on to the swimming pool in the afternoon. There was minimal squabbling, and in its place I watched them communicating with each other and making each other laugh. Our eldest is realising that her younger sister could become quite a good playmate, and has started including her in games that the two of them can play together.
Until now, we have witnessed the usual sibling rivalry and frustration that children feel when there is an age gap of two years. Our eldest was old enough to understand that a new baby had arrived (and was taking attention away from her), but not old enough to articulate, or even pinpoint, how she was feeling about this big change. These feelings rapidly escalated when the baby started grabbing our eldest’s hair or toys. They hit a peak when the baby became mobile and would move herself to a carefully created game and deconstruct it in seconds. After several weeks of verbal and physical clashes that left us all in tears, I started frantically reading books about raising happy siblings to try to help their developing relationship. I was desperate to make sure that our eldest felt she was being listened to. It felt natural to say ‘I know she knocked down your tower, but she’s only a baby’, but obviously this didn’t make our eldest feel any better about it. I needed to find new ways of acknowledging what our eldest was feeling, whilst helping her to let her anger out in other ways. I also wanted to make sure our youngest could play happily without being taken out by a toddler. It was hard to see her being shouted at and pushed out of the way whenever she reached for a toy. Despite this, she has always looked at her big sister with adoration and love, and is desperate to copy everything that she does. Maintaining this love therefore felt very important. The book I found the most useful was Calm Parents, Happy Siblings by Laura Markham, and I keep coming back to it every week or so for tips and ideas.
The last few days our eldest seems to have enjoyed her sister’s company. They have danced together, sung songs together, played games and had lots of cuddles. We have had a heatwave and they have enjoyed running around in the garden and playing in the paddling pool, sharing their water toys, and squealing as they run under the hosepipe together. There has still been some shouting and frustration, but it has been more easily resolved and generally short lived. I am under no illusion that our days of helping them to manage their relationship are over, and in fact now realise that it will probably require consistent guidance to keep it on track. I am sure there are plenty of squabbles and disagreements ahead of us. However, I feel like I have seen a glimpse of what their relationship might be like in the future, and it has filled me with joy to see how much happiness they might bring each other.
How have you helped your siblings with their relationship? I’d love to read your comments below, or @workinglife2016.