School-aged/Preschooler Sibling Relationships

Archived Responses: 

5-year-old excluding her 3-year-old brother when her friends are there

August 2004

My five year old daughter, who normally wants to play with her 3 year old brother, wants to exclude him and put him down when her girlfriends and even boyfriends are around.

For the last two years he has been included in their games. He is an easy to get along kid who everyone likes. And he will play dress up or whatever they are playing.

I don't want him to be excluded. He naps a couple hours in the afternoons so my daughter does have time to play with a friend when he's sleeping. I've explained that I want everyone to play together. I've given my daughter brief time outs with me. But to no avail. I'm hoping someone can give a little insight into the needs and drives of 5 year olds as it's been a long time since I've looked at a child development book.

Sorry to say it, but I think your expectations are unrealistic. First of all, your daughter will resent your son all the more if you force her to include him. You could damage their relationship in the long term. Secondly, your daughter is about school age, so she is going to be developing new friendships and maturing socially. It isn't fair to force her to play with her brother when her friends are over. That said, she shouldn't be allowed to be mean to him. My kids are 4 years apart and share a room. My rule is that my son doesn't have to let my daughter join in, but he can't keep her out of the room (or our tree house, etc.) and he can't treat her poorly. (Well, that's the rule all the time, but I keep an especially close eye on it when he has friends over.) Over time, he and his friends have invited my daughter to hang out with them, and they do all play together often. My kids also play really nicely when no other kids around. I think that's because I let the situation develop and didn't force it.

I try to schedule dual playdates (a friend for each) or I set aside time to do something special with my daughter when my son has someone over. Nothing big, just a board game or something like that. Anon

As the parent of a 5 year old, as well as having been a 5 year old myself once upon a time, I have to say that I think you're being unfair to your daughter by requiring her to play with her brother when she has a friend over. Kids need to form their own identities separate from their siblings. Five year olds want to play differently than three year olds do, and there's no reason that your daughter should have to spend her entire social life accommodating to her brother. Let her have her own life or she's going to grow up resenting the hell out of the brother she was never allowed to be away from.

Imagine that you had a best friend that you could never be alone with -- your husband (or hers) always had to be there, except for random two hour breaks (the nap) that could end at any time. How would you feel? Would the quality of closeness between you be the same?

Obviously it's more work for you to have to amuse your son when your daughter has a friend over, but I think you'll find that if you give your daughter some choice in the matter, she may want her brother to join her after a while. That's my experience anyway -- the older kids love to kick the younger ones out, and then after a while they want them to come back. nelly

I would respect your 5 year old's wishes to have some ''alone time'' with her friends. I still have this problem with my 8 and 5 year old, and it is a tough one. I am sure your 5 year old thinks of playdates as very special times. You may need to entertain your 3 year old during these times, which can be tough! Down the road, try to find a family you can sync up with that has kids the same age as yours and that get along- this is a lifesaver, but is difficult to do. Sherry

Fostering positive sibling interactions - 4 and 10 year olds

May 2004

I have a 10 year old son and a 4 year old daughter who seem to be interacting with one another in a rather negative manner. They do get along on occassion but the main concern/problem is the way in which they interact and communicate with one another. Regardless of what they have to say to each other it tends to come out sounding negative or hostile. Additionally, they are extremely quick to get angry with us, the parents, or with each other rather than giving the other individual the benefit of the doubt. We have talked to them about the situation and offered suggestions, but aren't sure how to instill a stronger guideline (aka punishment?!) to solve the problem.

As we have explained to them, they don't treat their friends and teachers this way so we don't expect them to be this way at home. We feel that they need to learn that you cannot treat people this way in the real world and it has been quite unpleasant to be around as well.

Any pointers?

I have been recommending the Non-Violent Communication (aka Compassionate Communication) at every opportunity (there are many on the UC Berkeley Parents Network). I cannot recommend it highly enough. This simple, powerful approach to communication is very effective with children: they learn it very quickly and take to it quite well. It is based on the understanding that people do what they do to get their needs met, but we tend to learn ineffective strategies and communication for getting them met, in part because we often don't understand what our needs truly *are*. Once we are able to get to what we truly need, we can communicate these more effectively, and we can learn to negotiate how to get help from our loved one's to get them met. It may not initially seem applicable, because maybe your kids don't seem to be expressing any obvious needs, but underneath the behavior and unpleasant interaction, there are some real needs that your kids just need some help to learn how to express.

One of the things that I really ''got'' from it is how ineffective PUNISHMENT is, especialy for teaching people to treat eachother better. The NVC approach is that punishment (and it's opposite, reward) are forms of coercion, and coercion is not really a nice way to treat people, so it's not a very good example for how to treat others well. Not to mention that, if people do things because they are coerced, then their behavior isn't genuine, so again, not very effective for teaching people how to treat others well.

The NVC workshop is also very helpful for learning how to communicate better with one's children, spouse, co-workers, whomEVER. I know we can all use improved communication, and I have found NVC to be life transforming. However, we do attend the ''practice groups'' because a few workshops, of course, are not going to be a ''silver bullet'' that solves all of our communication problems. More to the point, we don't change old habits (including old communication habits) over night. The practice groups are moderated and very helpful for maintaining what you learn in the workshop.

Best of all, the workshops are sliding scale, and no one is turned away for lack of funds, so you don't have to take the cost into consideration, if that is a concern for you.

Check out the web site for the local office:

BTW: this is not an organization that you ''join,'' so if that is a concern, let me lay it to rest.
Learning to communicate compassionately