Before our second baby was born, I was on pins and needles. Would the children play together? Would they be jealous? Would they fight? I wasn't sure what to expect. But after a year together (Anton turns one on Saturday!), we've thankfully figured out five things that have helped kickstart a sweet friendship...
Anton thinks Toby is a total rockstar. (Look at the way he gazes at him!) But, as the older child, Toby had a harder time adjusting to life with a sibling. So, to help things run more smoothly, we did some experimenting and—after some ups and downs—found five approaches that seemed to help:
1. Bring the baby "alive" for the older child. Needless to say, newborns don't make the most fun playmates, since all they do is cry, eat and sleep—booooring. So when Anton was first born, I tried to bring him alive for Toby. I would come into Toby's bedroom and say, "Toby, Anton wants to know if he can come lie in the bed with you." And Toby would smile and say, "Yes, he can." And I'd look at Anton and say, "Anton, Toby said yes! Let's get under the covers!" I also try to help Toby see how much Anton loves and needs him. When Anton cries, I might say, "You don't have to worry, Anton, Toby is right here." We also point out any funny things that Anton does. For example, if Anton starts chewing on toys, I might say, "Oh, Anton! You can't eat toys for breakfast!" and Toby will laugh and add, "Anton, you can't eat the toys for breakfast or lunch, silly goose!" and it seems like Anton is making this big funny joke for everyone and is fun to have around.
2. Treat them like a team. Instead of treating them like rivals, I try to treat them like a team. "Are the brothers ready to go to the playground?" or "Let's take a brothers bath!" or "Do the brothers want to jump on the bed?" It's human nature to want to belong to a group, and I try to make it sounds like a fun team to be part of. Brothers against the world!
3. Don't assign roles. This brilliant book advises not to assign roles to your children, such as "the artist" or "the musician" or "the athlete"—and that includes "bully" and "victim." So, if Toby pushes Anton, I try not to peg him as the mean attacker and Anton the weak victim. I'll say, "Toby, that's too rough. You brothers have to be gentle with each other. Toby and Anton, does that make sense to you both? Remember to be gentle with each other."
4. Schedule alone time with each child. Before Anton was born, Toby and I had SO much alone time. Every evening, we'd go to the playground together or take a bike ride. Once Anton was born, we hung out as a threesome. After a while, Toby started getting clingy during the day and then dragging out bedtime for aaaaaages, and it suddenly clicked that bedtime was the rare time that we were alone together and that's what he wanted more of. So we began scheduling outings—bike rides, the bookstore, dinners—for just the two of us, while Anton stayed home with Alex—and vice versa. (Alex takes Toby to an Indian restaurant on many Sunday nights and walks him to school every morning.) So each child gets alone time with each parent. We'll plan the date ahead of time and talk it way up, so it feels like a very special event.
5. Don't ignore the older child when the baby is getting all the attention. When Anton was a newborn, he slept most of the time, but now that he's walking and babbling, people are noticing him much more. Strangers will often come up and coo, "What a cutie!" or "How old is he?" while ignoring four-year-old Toby. That's completely understandable, of course, and children don't need 100% equal attention at all times, but Toby clearly feels hurt and will start singing loudly to get people's attention. So I try to bring him into the conversation right away. If someone says, "Oooh, how old is your baby?" I'll answer, "He's almost a year, and his big brother just turned four." Or if someone says, "Wow, he's such a cute walker!" I'll say, "Thanks! His older brother helped him learn." That way, Toby doesn't feel left out or irrelevant.
As I mentioned above, I also really, really loved the book Siblings Without Rivalry, which is filled with wise advice and funny comics to "help your children live together so you can live, too." It's fantastic with so many great down-to-earth tips, and I'd highly recommend it.
And overall it's so rewarding to watch the boys play and goof around together...
Do you have multiple children? How do they get along? Any other things you've tried, or books you've liked? Do you remember anything from your own childhood that helped (or hurt) your sibling relationships? I would LOVE to hear! We're definitely still learning every day. xoxo
P.S. Toby meeting Anton for the very first time, and why French kids eat everything.