Bonding between young siblings

Hi, my kids are 19 months apart (both boys, now 9 months and 28 months), and we initially had rosy images that Big Brother would just love being with Little Brother since they are so close in age. Instead, Big Brother is very jealous, which we understand is normal, and we do try to give both the attention they need and foster healthy interaction at every opportunity. I am the younger of 2 and estranged from my own sibling (3 years older), and I believe a lot has to do with how my parents always defaulted to reprimanding my older brother if he and I had any conflicts. As a result, we are not close, but I want something different for my own children. After talking to a friend with 2 girls, she recommended the book "Siblings without Rivalry", which I have yet to read, but a lot of her advice was to start 'planting the seeds' when they are young. I am mostly wondering if certain big decisions could help plant the seeds and have a positive effect for sibling bonding, or if it might backfire. Some things I'm considering: sharing a room (we want to, but again, Big Brother seems to not want Little Brother around; we are only holding off because Little Brother doesn't sleep through the night yet and we don't want Big Brother to resent him more), attending the same daycare once Little Brother is ready (that would mean possibly delaying preschool for Big Brother,) attending a Montessori preschool where the ages are mixed (looking at more affordable options), seeing if Little Brother can be only one year apart in grade school from Big Brother (though not sure if this is possible since Little Brother is an October baby). What has worked for you? Was there ever a time/situation where you felt you were forcing the bonding to take place and it backfired?

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RE: Bonding between young siblings ()

Tried to force our kids to bond with "togetherness".  It's just my experience, but it would have been far better if we had let big brother do as many things on his own as possible (playdates, teams, activities, 1:1 with mom or dad, movies etc).  At this late date we see how we gave in to little sister, and how both kids were prevented from doing stuff they liked because of the sibling.  I think if big brother had been content with his own social life, and little sis had been content with parental attention and later her own social life, there would have been more space for them to appreciate each other at home.  Probably there are as many ways to do it, though, as there are families.  I think some siblings are inseparable.

RE: Bonding between young siblings ()

My siblings and I are close as adults, and I really think it is because we were treated as individuals, yet treated the same. Do not delay big brother's preschool, do not try to make them one year apart in school. They should have separate rooms if that is what they want and you have enough rooms. In my family, we got to do certain things once we reached a certain age, such as go to preschool, go to amusement parks, walk to school alone, and we did not have to wait for the other ones to catch up. We also split up a lot, the older two or the younger two would go with separate parents to do separate age-appropriate activities, and someone would get one-on-one time with a parent. It all ended up equal in the end, as far as the attention and support we received from our parents, so there was no competition among us. I think artificial bonding will backfire and there will be resentment all around. Your boys are not two halves to make a whole, they are two completely separate people.

RE: Bonding between young siblings ()

Read that book, Siblings Without Rivalry. At this point, let the older kid decide how much togetherness he wants. When the younger gets to be about 2 yo, he can be in on decisions, too. Don't force togetherness. Don't compare them to each other out loud. Don't say, " I wish you could be more like your brother."  Have playdates in which you have a friend for each of them over. Make sure the younger child is disciplined in much the same way the older child is disciplined. Don't favor one child over the other because of age. Have the same expectations for both as much as possible. 

RE: Bonding between young siblings ()

My oldest was fine with her little sister at first, but started reacting jealously once the baby got mobile and able to get into her stuff, which is about where your children are now.  I would definitely recommend against forcing togetherness at this stage.  You should make your decisions on school based strictly on each child's readiness (and I'm not sure why having them at the same preschool would mean delaying the older boy's start -- even if they wound up at the same school, couldn't he start earlier?).  I agree with the response that recommended giving them separate bedrooms if you're able to, for now -- once they're a little older, you could revisit.  

Having said that, I made a conscious decision not to constantly set up separate playdates for my three kids once they got a bit older (obviously not appropriate for kids as young as yours, at such completely different developmental stages).  It kept my family life simpler and less hectic, and I believe it helped create the deep closeness they enjoy now in their 20's.  Of course I don't mean they had no individual social lives outside the family, but I made sure there was plenty of times it was just the three of them. Good luck with this -- I'm sure it will work out!

RE: Bonding between young siblings ()

Your older child is still very young and developmentally he is still not ready to see beyond his own needs. Are he matures the relationship will improve and his attitude towards his sibling will as well. I suggest giving him some space, one on one time with each parent and his own activities. Resist the temptation to try to micromanage your children’s lives as there is only so much you can control. I suggest building family memories like special family times, family customs and traditions and family trips so they will have a well of shared memories to help them bond. I think that is more important than being in adjacent grades in school. 

RE: Bonding between young siblings ()

As other posters have commented, you can't force togetherness/bonding - it's just something that happens over time, and will often backfire if forced. Your kids are still pretty young (and the baby still pretty new to the mix), so give it time - as they spend more time together and grow as little people (at 28mos kids haven't really learned all the empathy and tools for expressing themselves that they'll have later, and the baby will get more fun to hang out with as he learns to play and communicate), things will evolve naturally. My boys are 26 months apart and have always shared a room, but only by necessity. They played together a lot growing up, but mainly because they were usually each other's most convenient playmate. They also had their own friends, sports interests, etc. - we never tried to force any of that. I think the fact that they're 2 years apart in school has actually been good, because it helped give them their own space and identities. Now that they're teenagers they get along pretty well, with the usual teenage crankiness / sibling disputes thrown in, and often choose to hang out, go to movies, shoot hoops, etc. together as well as doing plenty of things separately. I feel like family trips (big ones, like international travel, and small things, like going to the beach together) were a good bonding thing - you're all outside your usual space and doing something interesting together - I know getting out the door with 2 kids those ages can be daunting, but even checking out a new park or something can be a fun adventure you all share and create shared memories around. Good luck and hang in there!

RE: Bonding between young siblings ()

I "second" what has been said so far - I wouldn't force the issue. Ours do share a room out of necessity and it has worked out pretty well so far. I don't have the luxury yet of seeing my children grow up (mine are currently 4 years and 15 months), but I see a lot of promise - they are very affectionate with one another and love being around one another, in between the tussleing (which they actually seem to both love, much to my dismay - go figure) and yanking things out of each other's hands. I think a lot of your influence at this point has to do with how well you can reason with your older one. Our older child was old enough, verbal enough, and reasonable enough to talk to about things even when the baby was born, and I think that has helped. Our younger child is happy, resilient, and doesn't take things too personally.

But the main thing I have done that I feel like has helped the most is to smother the older one with love, even when he is acting out. Being action based, this can be understood at any age. Often instead of a time out, I do a "time in" on my lap when he's been too rough. My goal is to break the current pattern or cycle, rather than to punish - which is not to say he is not held accountable. Usually we also talk about rules - what does HE want the rule to be about grabbing things? My only rule is that whatever he comes up with, it has to be the same for everyone. The talking might be harder with a two year old, but if you find ways to show him how much you love him, fiercely, adoringly, all the time, it might trickle down. Now, when my son kisses his sister and says what a sweet baby she is, I kiss him tenderly, and he finds it trickles up, too. 

I just read the article "For Sibling Battles, Be a Sportscaster, not a Referee" in the NYT, and I liked the principles. It's probably a little harder with such young ones, but I'm keeping it in mind. We also enjoyed "What the no-good baby is good for" by Elise Broach - it let's the bigger sibling know that they don't have to love every minute of their siblinghood - but fair warning, it's pretty realistic for how children REALLY feel, it's no romanticised version of the conclusions WE would like them to come to. We also like "My baby & Me" by Lynn Reiser and Penny Gentieu, with it's sweet rhymes and beautiful photographs of siblings in cooperative activities. "You were the first" by Patricia MacLachlan also tugged on my heart strings, although my son didn't seem to gravitate toward it as much as I thought he would. "Peter's Chair" by Ezra Jack Keating might be good in a little while. There was also one book we got from the library that was very sweet in which the baby sister toddled into her big brother's arms when she learned to walk, but I can't seem to figure out what it was called now.

I think a fair amount has to do with the personalities and the capabilities of your kids themselves (and boys and girls do seem to be different in the tone of their energies, I find), and the main thing you control is how much you SHOW them you love them. I think they need it a lot more at this stage. Especially for a two year old who is naturally, developmentally, moving more toward independence, and probably needs some extra reassurance that you are still there for him. Good luck, and just breathe through the challenging days - we all have them!!

RE: Bonding between young siblings ()

Agree with PP to read the book :) let your kids be separate. Let them work out their own disputes as much as possible. Don’t try to take sides. Listen empathetically to older boy about his jealousy. Acknowledge his feelings!!! He was bumped from the top spot! Don’t force them to bond. Let them choose to bond. My brother and I went to separate schools and always had different extracurriculars and we’ve always been best friends. It allowed both our separate friend circles to merge in a nice way. 

RE: Bonding between young siblings ()

Unfortunately you can’t really create a bond (though you can very easily damage it). All you can do is provide a space where their affection can be nurtured. 

Our kids are almost 3 years apart, and the Older was not really interested in Younger Sister until she was walking and talking. He loved her in the abstract, but they only really started playing together once she was around 2. Now they are 90% friends, 10% frenemies. 

Things we found useful:

- Giving the Older one alone time with each parent (especially Mom). This can be just 10-15 minutes as long as you’re fully present and engaged one on one

- Until his sister was old enough to have her own opinions and understand what we were saying, we did point out all the ways in which he was “superior”— Wow you can jump so high. Baby can’t walk yet. You’ll have to teach her to jump as high as you!

- We also had him help bring her diaper, or pick which spoon to feed her with, etc. 

- Now, as they’re older, my main emphasis has been fairness, especially as I’m the Older one and I remember my parents making me responsible for everything even though I was only 1.5 years older! It almost ruined my relationship with my brother as teenagers. We need to remind ourselves that he’s still a little guy too. 

- In general, I’ve noticed that the tenor of the relationship is set by the Older one. If Older feels secure and happy and is loving, the Younger reflects that back because the Younger starts from a place of absolute adoration of Older. 

RE: Bonding between young siblings ()

This really struck a chord with me because I have two girls (11 months and 3.5) - and also a terrible relationship with my own siblings that I really don't want to replicate. Just a few things I have been learning as I go...

1. People often say when you have children close together that it's very difficult for about 2 years, then becomes easier because the children are great friends - you're only 9 months in! The "friendship" stage is still a ways away! So I wouldn't stress about the seemingly disharmonious relationship. 

2. My three-year-old struggled at first (she was 30 months when we brought baby sister home), she often asked us to put the baby "away" and absolutely fell apart with jealousy if Nana held the baby. I have realized though that she was going through not only the transition to having a sibling, but also going from 2.5-3 comes with HUGE developments. In just a matter of months her language skills, ability to entertain herself with 'imagination' games, her ability to do things for herself (use potty, wash hands, grab a snack from the pantry, get her art supplies) and her friendships with other children have changed so drastically. As these skills developed, her comfort with being the "big sister" is also coming along - she likes to teach the baby things now and help me sometimes, she realizes she can make the baby laugh or help when she's fussing - hang in there because so many changes are ahead, so meet your 28-month-old where he is at now and know it will probably get much better within a year. 

3. While you're waiting for them to "naturally" progress, I actually like a lot of Janet Lansbury's advice on siblings - during the intense jealousy phase I tried to make my older daughter feel heard by saying "it can be hard having a baby sister...", and talk through those challenging moments. And I also talk aloud to the baby a lot more than I did the first time around. In part, it makes me feel like she understands if I don't respond to her needs as quickly, and it also allows the preschooler to hear important pieces of information. I say stuff like "don't grab mama's hair, that hurts! You are a baby so you are still learning to be gentle, we will teach you, you can't grab my hair, or your sister's hair...". 

4. I found doing as much one-on-one with both is really great. Even errands. Sometimes it's nice to connect with the older one and get to listen to her without distraction, but also sometimes it's nice to bond with the baby - who often is just "baby sister" instead of feeling like "my baby" - I think it's important for her to get a few experiences with just me!

Best of luck - sounds like you're planting seeds for a close knit family! 

RE: Bonding between young siblings ()

 I would periodically get a little gift for the older child and say the younger child picked it out.  The older one Hass to be young enough to believe that.  It was remarkably effective.

RE: Bonding between young siblings ()

OP here - thank you so much for all your advice and suggestions!! I really appreciate it and am so glad that people chimed in from all different stages of parenting. I started reading Siblings Without rivalry, and it was very eye-opening to understand the firstborn's perspective. It's all a work in progress, but you all gave me some great tools and things to think about!

RE: Bonding between young siblings ()

Something I did with my 2 girls (4 years apart) was constantly reinforce what a great big sister the older one was, and how lucky the younger one was to have her. I asked for her help often (little things, not burdens) and "interpreted" what her little sister was thinking, e.g. "Look how she is looking at you; she thinks you are amazing." "You are so good at making her laugh. I think you're the best one at that." etc. It was helpful for getting the older one to take pride in being a big sister and feel good about it. Just as much positive reinforcement as possible. Have your little one "say" all the things that you think the older one would want to hear. Good luck!