Helping Children Appreciate Their Siblings

22 06 2010

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller

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Sibling rivalry is a burning issue for parents raising families today. Almost everyone’s read an article or two about it. If we look at some of the stories in Tanach, there aren’t that many siblings who had perfect relationships with each other. Kayin and Hevel, Yishmael and Yitzchak, and Yaakov and Esav all had differing personalities and struggled with their siblings. Even those sibling relationships which weren’t as disastrous such as, Shimon and Levi and Avraham and his brothers, were still complex. What are sibling relationships supposed to be like? What can we as parents do to foster positive connections? What should we be aiming for?

In Shir Hashirim the Jewish people are referred to many times as “Achoti”-my sister. The perfect sibling relationship is one in which each sibling sees the other as a mirror. There’s a certain level of balance and equality. Hashem calls us His sister because he wants to see His middot reflected in us. However, the fact is, children are different in age, sex, personality, and life circumstances. They have different needs and if you decide to give each child the same thing you will encounter trouble. How can we give siblings a feeling of unity when they are not really one? In addition, all children are born with an inherent, intuitive feeling that the world was created for them. The child can transform these feelings into one of responsibility but he can also misdirect it by demanding everything for himself and picturing himself as the center of the world. It is then very difficult for him to understand why everything doesn’t circle around him and why his other siblings seem to be more important than him. How can we nurture healthy sibling relationships?

With very young children, sibling issues are much less severe than with older children. If a one and a half year old wakes up one morning to discover a new sibling, it will become a part of his reality very quickly. However there may still be challenges. An only child is used to being the sole recipient of his parent’s attention. When a new baby comes, he has to learn to share his parents. You have to realize that the older child is far more vulnerable than the new baby who has no expectations. The child has no way of understanding that the new baby isn’t his replacement. Therefore, try to keep the older child central and introduce the baby slowly as a presence. When visitors come, have them talk to the older child first. The baby loses nothing and the older child gains centrality. Sometimes you will need to speak with your relatives beforehand about this so that they are emotionally and psychologically equipped to do this. Have a present ready that you bought that the relative can give to your child, before she shows you her present for the baby. Nursing can become an issue. The intimacy, warmth, and closeness of nursing can awaken a primal instinct in the older child who might want to have it again. The child may regress back to babyish behavior such as bedwetting or wanting a bottle or asking to nurse. Try not to make a big deal about it. He will not do this indefinitely. Making a big fuss will just get him the negative attention he wants which will only encourage him to continue. However this does tell you that he needs extra love. So when he is playing quietly, get down on the floor with him and give him the extra attention he needs. If you think he needs more, try to get a babysitter he knows and likes to take him out. This will give him quality time and will offer you some rest time with the new baby. I am aware that there are psychological theories that posit that a person’s entire sense of self value is formed by the end of the first year. Therefore you have to centralize the baby and not the older child. Still I personally think that a baby’s sense of security and esteem develops with time after consistent warmth received from his parents, and the fact that his sibling is getting some of the pie won’t make it worse. Some parents find the new baby more emotionally and physically attractive. Naturally, they will pay little attention to the older child. These feelings need to be checked. Your older child is just as dear and precious and cannot be neglected.

We will continue with older toddlers and young children next week.

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