According to 2015 statistics from the United States Census Bureau, about 80 percent of American children have at least one brother or sister. A sibling relationship is the longest relationship that most siblings will have in their lives, so it’s only natural that siblings can have a huge impact and influence on each other.
The extent of sibling influence can vary greatly from family to family and person to person, and older brothers and sisters can pass down much more than the clothes and toys that they’ve outgrown.
Here are some ways that parents can teach older brothers and sisters how to be good older siblings and encourage good sibling relationships:
- Praise all children equally. Older children need as much recognition and encouragement as their younger siblings. Especially if there’s a large gap between your children’s ages, keep in mind that before their siblings came along, your older children likely had your undivided attention.
- Don’t compare siblings. Each of your children is unique and has his or her individual talents and interests. Even if your children participate in the same activities, do your best to avoid pitting them against each other. Siblings by nature will be competitive, but don’t add fuel to the fire.
- Avoid taking sides. Arguments between siblings are natural. Even if you know who instigated a fight, give consequences to all involved. This can instill a team environment rather than resentment.
- Entrust older children with more responsibility. Sometimes, older siblings play the role of babysitter for younger brothers and sisters. However, even if an older child isn’t old enough or mature enough to be left completely in charge, giving the older sibling responsibilities – such as making sure that younger siblings are watching age-appropriate television programs – can help to drive home the point that older siblings are role models and should look out for their younger counterparts.
- Give older children special privileges. It’s a natural part of growing up: with more responsibilities come more privileges. Consider giving older children special privileges, such as a bedtime that’s 30 minutes later than for their younger brothers or sisters. This gives younger siblings something to look forward to, and gives older children recognition for your expectation of maturity.