How Can I Get My Older Child to Bond with Her Baby Sibling?

As a parent who grew up as an only child, I often find myself bewildered and perplexed when I observe my children’s interactions with their siblings. “How can I get my older child to bond with her baby sibling?” is a question many parents ask, struggling to reconcile the idealized vision of siblings as lifelong friends with the reality of what takes place under their roofs daily, weekly, and monthly. With your children still young, there’s plenty of time for them to build a strong relationship, but it’s natural to want them to have the best possible start in life.

The Attention Connection

The negative behaviors that occur “when we give attention to the baby” are the first thing that comes to mind when I read your question. It is self-evident that infants require significantly more attention than children of the age of five, and it seems as though your older daughter is actively protesting this fact through her behavior. However, one of the consequences of these problem behaviors is that they definitely get your attention. This is the case. When it comes to children, we all too well understand that even negative attention is preferable to none at all.

First and foremost, you should focus more of your positive attention on your 5-year-old child. I am aware that you are a very busy parent of two children, one of whom is a high-needs almost-toddler. As a result, I am aware that it may be difficult for you to find more time (and energy) in your routine. It is possible that concentrating on your goals will help motivate you, so that is a good place to start. For instance, you have decided that one of your goals is to have your older child show concern for her younger sibling. I can imagine that among your other objectives is the desire for your eldest child to have the assurance that she is loved, despite receiving less attention and for the relationship between her and her sister to be close and connected.

Keeping your attention on these more expansive goals can help you make the most of the limited amount of time and energy available to ramp up positive attention for big sister. Your daughter will feel closer to you and more connected to you if you find time to spend with her on her own both during the busy day (even for just twenty minutes while the baby is napping) and during the week (by planning a special outing to a café for a treat). This age group typically craves one-on-one time with their parents. You and your partner can take turns and ask your daughter for her input on when and where to have this special time together so that she feels even more valued than she already does. It’s possible that strengthening your individual relationships with her will be enough to make the challenging behaviors with her younger sister go away.

Jealousy is the traditional root of the problem.

Although you are aware that negative behaviors in young children signal underlying emotions that the child is most likely unable to manage, you may still need to do some more in-depth work. The most obvious offender in this scenario is classic jealousy, an important feeling that we all, regardless of our age, need to learn to be successful in life.

Giving her a name for what she’s feeling, emphasizing that feeling this way is normal and understandable, and providing her with other ways to express it (such as saying it rather than throwing objects) can go a long way toward assisting her in the development of her own skill set for coping with challenging emotions. It’s possible that her awareness of being seen and understood, even for something that could be interpreted as a “bad feeling,” could help lessen the intensity of the feeling. When a person dials back the intensity of strong emotion, their behaviors almost always follow suit and become more stable.

Big Sister Empowerment

Your daughter will likely be ready to shift her focus to the positive aspects of being a big sister once you have tended to your relationship by increasing the amount of attention and connection you share with one another and addressing her experience with significant and difficult feelings. Think about ways that you and your partner can boost her self-esteem and confidence by focusing on the role that she plays as an older sibling. Call attention to the good deeds that have been done and offer specific praise: “Wow! Your sister was crying when you made that funny face, which caused her to laugh. You just helped her feel better. She is incredibly fortunate to have you as her older sister.”

You can also determine the ways in which she would like to have a more active role in the care of her younger sister. Take note of the caring or assisting activities that she appears to enjoy, and emphasize those activities as significant responsibilities (children this age adore the sensation of being productive!). Consider her attributes, and then think about how you can turn those attributes into useful tasks that will continue to boost her sense of pride in her role as the older sibling. For instance, my son enjoyed wiping down the counters when he was that age. He does not have the baby brother that he so desperately wants, but if he did, he could be in charge of cleaning up the messes that the baby makes on the counters. There is figuratively no such thing as an insignificant job!

You also mention that the infant is her “best fan and biggest audience,” and it’s true that younger siblings can be very forgiving of their older siblings’ mistakes. Again, once the attention and jealousy factors have been addressed, she is in a better position to be receptive to the idea of pointing out how much her younger sister genuinely adores her, and it is more likely that she will be receptive to this idea.

The Heart of the Matter

Relationships between siblings can be a moving target and frequently go from being friendly to being contentious in seconds. As parents, we have no way of knowing or controlling whether or not our children have what it takes to have genuine friendships with their peers, but we can create an atmosphere that encourages healthy, meaningful connections between them. This includes nurturing each individual parent-child relationship with attention and connection, as well as guiding our children through the turbulence of intense feelings while assuring them that we love them regardless of the fact that they are experiencing those feelings. Last but not least, if we can demonstrate to our children that we appreciate their individual qualities and the contribution they make to the family, this boosts their self-assurance and provides them with a sense of emotional security, which in turn enables them to be the best siblings they can be. At least on occasion or frequently.

Meaningful Related articles you might like: The Influence of Sibling Relations on Bullying, Sibling Rivalries in Children and Teens, Assisting Your Child in Adjusting to a New Sibling