Siblings vs Friends

Archived Q&A and Reviews


5-year-old and her friends are teasing 3-year-old

March 2008

Hello wise ones...I have just crossed the threshold into the fives which are fantastic in many regard except for one. My normally sweet five year old has begun to say mean things to her little sister. It started as 'joining in' with friends and now sometimes is initiated by her. Either situation is not acceptable. Any thoughts on handling.

Specifically, my younger daughter seems to be a 'target' of older kids. They will call her stupid, stinky or diaper head (she's been potty trained since 20-months, so that obviously stems from the five-year-old obsession with potty talk). They will run from her and slam the door on her. My younger daughter, who just turned three, can be a pesky little sister. She is quite advanced for her age in many regards, but she still is three. I also know that she gives fabulous reactions to her tormentors (term used lightly as I LOVE the kids that are teasing her -- they are great, but just entering a new stage), which may encourage it.

I am working with my daughter to say 'I don't like that...that's not nice.' She is very verbal (one of those kids that had complete sentences by 15 months, but many kids, loses her words in the heat of the moment. I am working with my elder child to say to her friends when they start teasing 'that's not nice. Be nice to my sister.' But, that happens only once out of every five instances. So...what techniques have worked with you to help your younger child deal with the teasing and your older child from stopping the teasing (in herself and friends)? -need help...

As the youngest of six, this is a bit of a hot button for me. I don't have two, but if I do, I wouldn't allow it in my house. I would tell my five year old and her friends that it's not acceptable, and then the next time it happened send her friends home (arrange this ahead of time with the parents). Or alternatively put her in her room separately for a bit. The other thing you might want to do is tell your youngest that she needs to give the oldest some time alone. I have only been in this situation once with my three year old and friends older five year olds. I told one of them that he wasn't being kind, and I took my son out of the situation for a while. It seemed that taunting my son was their best form of entertainment. If they can't be kind, they can't play. I have thin skin, and it hurts too much to remember the taunting of my older siblings to let my son suffer it, or participate in it. It may be typical 5 yro behavior, but it's not kind. Hate teasing and exclusion.

I have an 8 year old daughter and a 4 year old son. My children and I have frequent talks about how to treat other humans and what it feels like to have mean things said to you, and have feelings hurt. When one of them is rude to the other and I stop it immediately and we talk about feelings. When my daughter has a playdate, her little brother can be a pest and does not leave the girls alone. My daughter has a right to have a playdate without her brother interfering. At the same time, my son's feelings get very hurt about being excluded. It is my job then to either play with him, or provide another play mate for him during her play dates. And, of course, this goes both ways. I avoid a lot of name calling just by being present and aware of the situation. Sometimes, my daughter ( or my son) slips and I catch it as quickly as possible and as she has experience with this, she apologizes to him and stops. However, I have had play mates of hers here who were unable to stop the rude behavior toward her little brother even with all the structure and awareness. Those children are not invited back to my home. And, my daughter, who loves her brother, is very understanding about the fact that children who are mean and rude to her brother and not welcomed at our home. Because of a lot of work on my and my husbands part, my children are thoughtful caring kids and expect other children who come to our home to behave the same way. I can accept that it is a stage to test one's power and use name calling to test that power. I do not accept disrespectful behavior however from my children or their guests. And, as far a potty talk goes (another phase), at my house you are allowed to do it as much as you want as long as it is done alone in the bathroom - a tip from our wonderful preschool director. Lisa

In our house, it is not okay for siblings to tease siblings in a mean way. It is not okay for friends to tease friends in our house. It is not okay for friends to tease siblings. It is not okay to call someone mean names. We tell our kids, their friends and our own siblings, ''Mean teasing is not okay in our house.'' In your house, your rules rule. You can set the law. Just don't allow mean teasing and have consequesnces. Call the kids parents and send the kid home if they continue to tease. Also, we don't allow playing with doors or door slamming (too much opprtunity for hurt or broken fingers and toes and door jambs). If the older kids need time away from the younger kid, then they can ask for it kindly - and can ask you for help. Keep that level of respect high for all. Kids who get away with mean teasing at this age can be perceived as real jerks when they get to elementary and middle school. Best they learn respect and caring now. Even nice kids do mean teasing some times. Help them learn how to be kind. It does take a village. Anon.

I too have daughters 2 years apart (5 and 1/2 and 3 and 1/2). I have dealt with some similar issues. My girls play quite well together for the most part when they are alone. When my older daughter has a friend over it's a whole different story. My little one is extremely good at sticking up for herself, but like you say, she is still little. I don't want to micromanage their playdates all of the time, but I can't stand to see her teased. One thing we have instituted is a zero tolerance policy for teasing and excluding her in her home. I talk with my older daughter and her friend at the outset of the playdate stating they have to include her (esp b/c the girls share a room and it is just not OK to exclude her from HER space!). It works much of the time. But definitely not always. As a big sister myself it has really given me perspective on just how much the young one suffers. Big sister and mom

Doesn't your three-year-old have any friends at all she could play with? It's not fair to your younger child to be isolated from any friends her own age while being tormented by older kids who obvously don't want her around. It's also not fair to your older child to be continually pestered by a ''pesky'' toddler. Older sister

Play dates for siblings who are very close

July 2007

We have two children aged seven and six who are very close and enjoy playing together. There are no kids in our neighborhood their age. Our girl, seven, has a group of three great friends who live in another neighborhood and always have her over for parties, play dates, etc. Our son has two close friends who have never had him over for a play date although we have had them over numerous times. Frequently, our poor son is left sitting at home while his sister is at her friends, so we invite his two best friends over. It would be nice if they would invite him over not only to give us a break, but also to allow an opportunity to have my daughter's friends over. When we do invite my daughter's friends over, my son frequently disrupts her play dates (they are very close and he gets very active/involved/jealous when her friends are over). Would you recommend we stop inviting my son's two friends over and instead invite other kids over who are not my son's best friends, but who may reciprocate the play dates? How can I make my daughter's play dates at home more inviting with her jealous brother close by? Thanks for your advice. anon

I think I would invite other kids over in hopes their parents may reciprocate. It would be fun for your son to get to go to other houses and interact with the parents and play with the other toys. It might feel better to him and you. anonymous

4-year-old sister is excluded when 5-year-olds have a playdate

May 2007

I am hoping some of you can suggest sensible solutions for my issue. I have two daughters close in age, 5 1/2 & 4. My two daughters play very well together and enjoy each other's company. I know I'm amazingly lucky, but they almost never fight or bicker.

My very good neighborhood friend has one 5-yo daughter and a teenage stepson. Her daughter is frequently bored, with no one to play with, so asks for playdates with my older daughter almost every day. I'm all for my daughter socializing, but this particular situation is difficult for my younger child. If the playdate is at the other child's house, my younger daughter is not invited. If the playdate is at my house, the big girls exclude the little one. I know this sounds like mommy bias, but it does always seem like her daughter is the one doing the excluding. She hasn't grown up with a close sibling, where she's had to share and include.

So when they're all here, my little one comes to me crying that they won't play with her. When they're there, my little one is bored and lonely. I feel like my friend calls for these playdates because her daughter is driving her crazy, but then it leaves me with my little daughter either lonely or excluded. And, yes, driving me crazy. I should mention that these girls are in preschool together every afternoon. I don't want to say no to playdates altogether, but I want to draw the line somewhere. And I do value my friendship with the other mom. What would you do? anon, please!

We have a very similar situation with a neighbor. I have had to be very clear with boundaries, and limiting playdates since it's such hard work for me and hard on my little one. Really my feeling is one or two playdates a week is more than enough for little ones anyway. My two kids can entertain each other for hrs and I don't have that same need that parents of only children have. Also playdates at the park work because my little one can do her own thing there unbothered. I've found overall that we have a much easier time with families with siblings close in age, and parents who understand what it's like to have two little ones. momof2

We had a similar vibe at our house, but luckily it was helped by my son's Kindergarten teacher who read the entire class the book ''You Can't Say You Can't Play'' by Vivian Gussin Paley. We all loved the book. The rule at our house now is ''You Can't Say You Can't Play''. It also helped to schedule play dates for my younger one, so the older ones could have a little big girl time every now and then. hate feeling left out too

We run into a very similar situation in our household. Our 6-yr old daughter will play wonderfully with her 3-yr old brother, but when our neighbor's daughter (also 6-yr old) wants to come for a playdate, they will exclude him. I have tried to balance this by giving them a chance to play by themselves, which is important for them, but to also let them know that they have to include him in some of their games. I watch it very closely, because the girlfriend will also exclude our son whenever possible (she is an only child). So I end up giving them probably about 50% of time by themselves and the other half of the time they need to include him. That seems to work most of the time. Hope this helps! JOJ

I would suggest that you help your younger child make friends of her own. It is good for the older child to have her own friends and do things without the younger one. If you force the issue you will end up with the older child eventually resenting her younger sister. Also as they get older, your older child will get left out of parties etc because her classmates will not want to have to invite the little sister. I have seen this happen and the siblings end up being outcasts with their own classmates. If you teach the younger one to make her own circle of friends, it will be better for both in the long run. seen it happen

Please don't blame the girl or her mother. Younger siblings need to learn they will get their turn to have their own playdates when they make their own friends and are old enough for playdates. This will come up again when your older daughter is in elementary school and the younger one can't participate in all the school events. It's hard, but at 4, she should understand and maybe can do something special with you instead. --the older sibling

I have two daughters, 2 1/2 years apart (4 1/2 and 7), who are also the best of friends and usually play beautifully together. When the older one has playdates, the younger one expects to be fully included and most of my older one's friends do include her. My older daughter has never complained that her sister wants to be included--if she did, I would probably respect that. Most of the older one's friends don't seem to notice or mind that the little one is included either. But, there are a few friends who are not so inclusive. When those friends come over, I try to invite another friend over for my younger daughter. Or, I plan a special, enticing activity to do with my younger one so that she is engaged more with me than with the older girls. I'm sure this will all change over the course of time, but that's what works for me now. Hardin Engelhardt

My oldest kids are 2.5 years apart. I learned that an odd number of kids is almost always a problem, no matter how well any two of them play together. You always want to have friends over in pairs if you have two kids. I cultivated friends for the older one who had a sibling about the same age as the younger one, so they could both come over at the same time. What you can say to your friend is ''Yes that sounds great if I can get a playdate for my younger one. It just doesn't work with three.'' Ginger

I am no expert on the playdates and siblings issue but what I do with my daughter (6) and son (4) is state clearly that when my daughter has a friend over, for the first half of the playdate the girls must include her brother in whatever they are playing. Then I take him away and entertain him in the second half (or remaining time, often they get engrossed so the first half creeps into the second half). Also, I would feel free to talk to the other mom about your youngest feeling left out. There are a number of ways to enlist her help. You could ask that you schedule playdates farther in advance so you can coordinate one for your youngest at tha same time. You could also ask if her daughter could have a playdate with your younger daughter only some day (perhaps when the older one is at a different friend's house). That way the neighbor girl will see how fun it is to play with the little sis. Or you could have the mom talk to her daughter about not excluding. Communication is key! My sister and I are only 17 months apart and we had all of the same friends growing up. It seems to me that these girls could be your own 3 musketeers if you foster that. Good luck Jennifer

you have 2 problems: someone who wants to impose/monopolize your social calendar, and exclusion. one way to deal with both would be to set up a ''day of the week'' sort of thing, where you decide how much time for the big girls to see each other after school (eg mon and wed), and cultivate some other friendships/activities for your 4yo on those days. your neighbor could look after the 5.5yo (maybe even pick her up from school if car size allows), while you take the 4yo to a class/outing/playdate of her own on monday. then on weds you and the 4yo can make dinner/cookies/art project or play a game together while the two big girls play at your house. try to make it extra special for your 4yo. if the others are interested in the activity, then all 3 might play together, but only on the condition that everyone is treated well and not excluded. then on the other 3 days you are ''not available'' so that your 2 girls can ''have a playdate'' with each other. when the neighbor/girl ask re: other days, simply smile and say ''oh, i'm sorry, but we're looking forward to seeing you mon/wednesday!'' signed: seen exclusion before.

I have an almost six y.o. daughter, who is an only child. Off the top of my head, I can only think of one other friend of hers that is also an only child. The rest all have siblings. In all the playdates we've hosted, I have never expected to include the siblings. After all, I am asking for a playdate for my daughter. If the other parent would ask me to take the younger sibling, not only would I feel that it defeats the purpose of the playdate, I would feel like she is asking me to babysit. That's a lot different than having two 6 y.o. play together. My daughter does have a very good friend who has an older sister, who has come too. I'm sure she gets a little bored of some of the younger ones games, but I figure if she doesn't like what they are playing she wouldn't want to come. And they are all old enough to understand the concept of democracy and everyone needing to be fair and agree on what they want to do. Certainly not the case with the 3-4 year olds.

On the flip side, when I take my daughter to a playdate where there are younger siblings, I make it clear to hear that SHE is not to exlude the sibling if s/he wants to play. But I do expect the parent in charge of the playdate to make the rules, whether it be to include the sibling for a half hour or the whole time or whatever. And I tell my daughter to follow the rules of their house.

If the mom at the other house is not making rules about exclusion, then you may need to have a discussion with her. But at your house, you make the rules. And I would agree that whilst you don't want your youngest to be left out and lonely you need to teach her about respecting her sister too and her privacy. They will spend their lifetimes not having the same friends. This is not a bad thing. mom of only that knows not to exclude

It sounds like having playdates for the older girls makes more work for you no matter where the playdate takes place, because you wind up having to entertain the younger one instead of getting stuff done or taking a well-deserved breather. But it's also important for your older daughter to spend time with her friends & do ''big kid'' stuff.

Since you get along with the other mom, you can probably explain your situation & brainstorm on some ideas. I'm sure that she values your friendship & her daughter's friendship with your daughter & will want to make things work. I'm speaking from experience, because most of my 5-year-old daughter's friends have younger siblings & their moms are dealing with similar issues: After years of caring for 2 kids in diapers, the siblings are old enough to amuse each other & Mom FINALLY gets a break!

Perhaps the two of you could chip in to pay an older neighbor child $5.00 an hour to play with the younger sibling when your daughters are visiting together. Or, when she hosts the playdate, perhaps she could have BOTH of your children over & could do some really fun, special stuff with the younger child while the older girls play. She may even kind of miss the toddler stage & enjoy doing this. The two of you could also alternate taking all three children to a local park where the younger child could find playmates & fun stuff to do.

It seems like it would be a lot more fair & everyone would be a lot happier if the other mom could share some of the load. If she's at all like me, she'll probably be happy to do it in order to help you out, maintain your friendship, & keep those playdates coming! Good luck! Lisa

Can sisters share friends?

Dec 2002

This is causing a lot of turmoil in my house. I have two girls two years apart. My oldest has a pretty intense friendship with a neighbor girl, her best friend since she was two. But now my second daughter is becoming old enough to be interesting to this neighbor girl (my second daughter would like nothing better than to join that twosome). When the three of them play together, while in the past the two older girls have sometimes paired up against my second daughter, more and more the neighbor girl and my second daughter pair up in some way against my oldest. In my oldest's eyes, her sister ruins their playdates. Both the neighbor girl and my second daughter have expressed the wish to have their own solo playdate sometime. By themselves my daughters play together well and often, but this has really ratcheted up the sibling rivalry; often after encounters with the neighbor girl, my oldest is in tears and my second is sly or joyful.

The neighbor girl's mom and I are friends. She says her daughter likes to think of my second child as a sister, since she is an only child. Sometimes her daughter seems to be also enjoying the power this threesome dynamic gives her too. Often though she is just enjoying being with my second daughter, who is charming.

I don't know how to handle this. Do we try to protect my oldest and her friendship with this neighbor girl -- playdates only at her house, refuse playdates between the neighbor girl and my second daughter, etc.? (We've tried that --- but it feels more interventionist than I like to be in their social world). Do I adopt a more laissez-faire attitude, and have playdates at either house, and when they are at my house have rules that everybody plays together? (We have tried this too, and it is pretty painful to see the petty cruelties since the rules are not always honored). As I say, it is not that the neighbor girl and my second daughter are always trying to be mean, but the very fact of how much they like each other is painful to my oldest. My oldest has lots of other friends at school, but this is by far her most intense friendship.

Please help -- any perspective appreciated.
Anonymous for their privacy

When I was a girl, our neighbors had daughters a year older and a year younger than me, and I was friends with both. I remember that at various times I spent more time with one or the other, but we also often played as a group. I'm sorry for what your elder daughter must be feeling, but I also don't imagine that preventing the development of a one-on-one friendship between the other two will be a good solution. I'd keep in mind that kids go through phases and the friend might gravitate toward your elder daughter again soon. (The situation also reminds me of my growing up in a three-child family--the dyads were constantly changing, but someone often felt left out!) Ellen

One thing I learned with two boys: never invite a friend for one without inviting a friend for the other. The odd numbers are deadly, because one kid invariably gets left out. A Mom

Re: rivalry over a next-door playmate The first thing to do is be thankful that your next door neighbor is a friend and has been reasonable about this situation. It would be a good idea to get together with her and strategize how you want to handle your daughters' play times.

The next thing to do is to understand that threesomes among young children are inevitably unstable. Today, Child A is the desired play partner; tomorrow, she's the rejected one. It's painful to watch (and may bring up painful memories from one's own childhood), but there are some things you can do to lessen the intensity. First, try to dilute the threesomes by having another child over, or arranging playdates elsewhere for one of your daughters. Foursomes and twosomes work because everyone has a partner.

Don't expect one daughter to stay out of the picture when the neighbor is playing with your other daughter. They all play together, unless one child chooses to do something else.

Be very clear that unkindness is not allowed. One consequence for unkindness is that playtime is over; the neighbor girl goes home and your daughters have to be in different parts of the house. The reverse of this is that playing together is a reward for good behavior; the currently favored pair can play together as long as the third child is graciously included.

Avoid extended playtimes. All children get tired of each other eventually and then the fighting begins. It's hard to keep this boundary when those kids next door are so convenient, but it's well worth the effort.

You and your neighbor will have to keep alert when the girls are playing and step in as necessary. Eventually, they will learn the social skills to manage these rivalries and the situation will resolve itself; and the girls may be friends for years (or not!). If you weather this passage with your friendship with your neighbor intact, you will have accomplished something really worthwhile.