“I take care of the bike. You take care of each other. ”That’s what I said to my children as we sped on the East River Ferry with my bike + bike trailer. My son was worried that the boat would leave without us and that was my way of reassuring him. I want him to trust me with the equipment and travel logistics during our time Camp Mama Adventure. His priority – and his sister’s priority – can simply be one another.
As parents, it is natural to rely on our older children to “keep an eye on” their younger siblings. It is certainly something that I have asked of my older son from time to time. However, I usually encourage my children (4.5 and 2.5) to support and supervise one another. Expecting a sibling to consistently take on the role of protector can lead to resentment and stress. Some older siblings feel immense pressure to keep younger siblings happy and safe, while younger siblings often want more independence and want their own strengths and abilities to be recognized.
At 2.5, my younger daughter discovered some sensible strategies to support her older brother. When he is angry, she brings him his favorite stuffed animal. As he slides close to the edge of the sidewalk, she puts a gentle hand on his back to guide him away from the street. When he goes back to bed after a bad dream, she whispers from the other side of the bedroom they share: “Are you all right? You feel better?”
As I watch my children’s interactions, I am grateful for the connectedness they share. Camp Mama is in full swing here. Even if some days are tougher than others, I always try to emphasize one thing: Together you make a great team.
Here are 5 ways to strengthen the bond between siblings:
Give them space.
The moment you notice the initial stages of collaboration, you take a physical step back. When I hear my kids gathering their favorite building materials or chatting about their next game scenario, I am busy in a nearby room. This enables them to play, solve problems and deal with conflicts without my presence. If they really need my support, I’ll stop by and encourage them to speak directly to each other about what they want or need.
Examples: “Tell him, ‘I still use this dump truck. You can have it when I’m done. ‘”
“It sounds like you really want to build this runway yourself. Tell her about the other parts of the airport that she can help you build with. ”
Let them lead together.
At the beginning of the summer, I challenged my preschooler and toddler to take turns showing the way when we drove to a familiar “natural spot” in Central Park. Now I encourage them to lead together. I say, “Dada hasn’t been to our favorite waterfall in a long time. Bet you can work together to find it without Dada checking a map. “As they navigate together, they point out natural details to my husband:” This is where we practice climbing … We saw a cardinal on this tree yesterday . ”Siblings can also teach their parents a new game, prepare a simple snack or meal together, or describe the block structure or imaginary world they have just created.
Celebrate experiences that are new to everyone.
It’s exciting for siblings to share new experiences! This summer my kids got together to make their first homemade pizza, ride a carousel for the first time since COVID, and visit some epic playgrounds that are new to us. When we talk about our shared experiences, I remind them, “This was new to both of you. You have never been there / had that and now you are there / that … together! ”
Include open-ended game materials.
Open-ended play materials are toys that can be used in a variety of ways by children of all ages. Think of playing silk, loose pieces, and balance boards. Siblings can play collaboratively or simply side by side. My family’s collection of blocks and plasticine is really loved just after the adventure! Check out our collection Open-ended all stars to support meaningful gaming experiences for the whole family.
Encourage storytelling together.
Every Friday evening our family of four meets for “Picture Night”. We turn off the lights, snuggle up on the couch, and watch a slideshow of photos I took over the week. This is an opportunity for my children to share their weekday adventures with my husband. At 4.5 and 2.5 they focus on different details, but often turn to each other and ask, “Do you remember when …?” After a long week, it is refreshing to come together in this way and review what you have experienced to let.
Reality check. It’s not just rainbows and ferry rides here. All this togetherness gives my children the opportunity to master hard things every day. Do you feel that you need new sibling strategies? Check out our webinars Positive language strategies to support sibling interactions and Improving family connection through games.