Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Siblings Blessing or Burden

A conversation with a client this week:
"How did he do with having his baby brother here today?"
"I was afraid he would try to do too much. He's very responsible with him and likes to help out." 
"I let him know right off that the baby was MY job and MY responsibility and that if I needed him to help out as teacher's helper, which is his job this week, that I would let him know. He went merrily off to play."

You may think that siblings are a gift of one to another. That can be true. However, they are often a burden and that burden is created by adults.

One of the best gifts you can give an older child is to say about their younger sibling:

"He is NOT your job. 
He is NOT your responsibility."

I have heard so often, "Take care of your baby brother!" as a parent leaves. Seriously, that is the last thing they say as they walk out through the door. A 3 or 4 year old child is left with that as their parent's final farewell. 

It is a massive burden. 

It strips away your older child's childhood.

Children do naughty things. Children get hurt. Children get hungry or sad or frustrated and cry. As adults we know we can't make a child's life perfect for them, but a young child has no clue and just gets anxious, frustrated, fearful and depressed when they understand the futility and POWERLESSNESS of the position they have been tasked with by their parent.

It is not a good thing for either child. 

1. It teaches the older child to lie. If it is his responsibility, then he will do anything to make sure the younger sibling doesn't get into trouble. This means lying about what happens, usually blaming another, innocent, child.

2. The older child will do anything to make the younger child happy. That often means assisting them in participating in something physical the older child is doing, which can be dangerous or inappropriate for the younger one. The helping can take the form of lifting the child or in other ways manhandling the child that could cause harm, or placing them higher or on more precarious places than a younger child should be accessing. 

By getting into physical positions with help, the younger child doesn't build the necessary skills to do so independently safely, and by not getting there himself, he lacks any knowledge of how to get out or down, let alone safely. Helping a child do anything physical is always a bad idea. They need to get there on their own, with some coaching, not physical manipulation. 

3. Also in making the younger child happy, the older one may sneak foods, steal toys from others, harm other children to allow their younger sibling to have an undeserved turn at an activity and in many way undermine the foundations of a good community. 

The older sibling wouldn't be doing this without the weight of responsibility, so it is turning a perfectly good child into one who is doing not good things, and developing not good habits. 

The younger sibling, on the other hand, is learning that she can get what she wants whenever she wants, doesn't have to wait, how to bully, and getting spoiled.

This week:

"[Mr. H], that is NOT her toy. Just because she wants it doesn't mean she gets it. It is not your job to make your sister happy, but it IS your job to follow the rules and be a nice person. Please give that back to him."

4. The older sibling spends so much time worrying and care taking over the younger child that they lose the ability to just play, be with their friends, and relax. They are constantly on the lookout for the younger one, and constantly intervening whenever anything goes even a bit sideways. 

The younger sibling doesn't learn proper coping mechanisms, patience, and social norms. Gaps can emerge in their development when the younger one is pushed by the older one into participating at a higher level before ready. The younger one isn't allowed to develop at their natural pace.


Mr. R to his friends: "I can't play right now, I need to get [baby brother] calmed down."

Me across the room: "He is NOT your responsibility. He's mine. He's fine. His bottle is almost ready. Go play."

5. When things go wrong, and they will go wrong, the older sibling feels responsible. He wasn't watching close enough, he wasn't near enough, he wasn't good enough to keep the younger sibling from getting hurt, either physically or emotionally. 

Couple that with a parent or adult that immediately demands harshly of the older sibling, "What happened?" It makes that burden even weightier. The proper response is to take care of the younger one, reassure the older one, and casually ask the older one if he saw what happened without a harsh grilling.

6. I have seen parents punish an older child for what a younger one did. Why? "You are old enough you should have stopped him or at least come and told me what he was doing!" Again, making the older child responsible, rather than acknowledging their own lack of parental supervision. 

It isn't fair to rely on a 3-6 year old to supervise an infant - 5 year old. There are plenty of videos on Youtube showing what children can get up to when left unsupervised. GOOD KIDS. For just a few minutes. Be the adult. Supervise your own children or hire someone else to do it. Take parental responsibility and don't lay it in any way in your older child's direction.

I, my brother and mom
I know many adults who hold resentment, and even trauma, due to a burdensome responsibility for their sibling(s) placed upon them by the adults in their lives. It can not only alter and even eliminate a happy, content childhood, it can change a person for life. 

I have a friend whose little brother died from a drug overdose when they were teens. She still blames herself nearly 50 years later for not being able to intervene enough to save him. She was tasked with taking care of her brother from an early age.

Give your child the gift of a sibling, not the burden.
parenting, parents, pre-k, sister, brother, sibling rivalry, development, child care, childcare, daycare, preschool, toddlers

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