Are You a Brother to Me or Not: How to Make Brothers and Sisters to be friends, not Enemies?

Especially for Femme4, an influential family psychologist, Ph.D. Ilya Lawrence wrote a column on how to grow friends out of little brothers and sisters, and not bitter enemies

The drawing of little Mark, which his mother brought to the reception, shows a completely happy family. An orange sun is shining in the sky, grass is thinning on the ground. Mom, Dad and the four-year-old “author” are playing in the park. But the other – the trio went to the sea and caught in the net either a green dolphin or an alien creature. There are a dozen of such children’s arts. It would seem – what is the drama? The fact is that Mark is not the only child in the family. He has a younger sister, the one-year-old Sonya, but she is never shown in the drawings. In fact, Mark very much asked to “give birth to his baby.” But when his sister was born, he did not like it at all. After all, his parents strictly forbade him to play with her. Now the boy is worried about another question: can he give birth to a normal friend right now? But that’s not all. The picture case is actually harmless. In another family – Andrei and Savva – the older brother openly and in all seriousness threatens to kill the younger one, which is why both children grow up almost in isolation from each other in different rooms.

When parents who already have one child think about the second, the most frequent question is: how will the elder perceive the appearance of a new baby in the family? Most of all, moms and dads want their firstborn to look forward to the birth of a brother or sister, accept him, love and care after birth. But it’s no secret that older children, who have been the only ones in the family for a long time, may not be at all happy with a competitor in the struggle for parental attention. It often happens that in some families, brothers and sisters get along with each other, accept the “newcomer,” while in others, there is either ignorance, or active rejection, even hatred. What does it depend on and how can you help older children relate better to younger ones?

The perception of subsequent children by the first-borns strongly depends on the kind of contact they had with their parents before the replenishment in the family. Infants have two main psychological needs (in addition to physiological ones), on the satisfaction of which their emotional stability depends. These are the need for a stable caring relationship with a significant adult (in other words, the need for affection) and the importance of exploring the world around us, curiosity (research need). The safer and more reliable the contact between a child and an adult, the stronger his attachment, the more courageously he goes to study this world. Affection can be compared to a secure rear: when we feel that we have somewhere to return, that there is a safe place where, in case of trouble, we can receive care and comfort, then we go much more boldly towards the unknown. And vice versa: when an adult is unreliable, emotionally cold, constantly disappearing, how can you be sure of your rear?

When a child is alone, parents are much more likely to respond to his needs. And the birth of another one leads to the fact that the invisible emotional thread between the parents and the first-born is very stretched, there is a threat of losing a reliable rear. The child begins to constantly pull this thread, checking: hey, dear ones, are you still there, do you still remember me, are you still able to respond to my call? “Pulling the thread” can manifest itself in different ways: it is sharply frequent “whims”, and jealousy of the younger, and constant competition with him. But, in fact, the negative that the elder can direct to the younger has little to do with the second / third child itself, these are all messages to parents and an attempt to restore a sense of a reliable rear. What can help a child to make sure that he was not left for this “new”?

An emotionally significant relationship with someone but the mother

In a perfect world, this is the father. When a child lacks contact with his mother, he protests for a while and looks for a temporary “replacement” for her. This is how children often become attached, for example, to nannies or grandmothers. But it is here that the figure of the father is important, as a person who is constantly present in the child’s life, and then his rear will never be empty. The problem is that fathers in Russia are very often either physically or emotionally absent. And if only one mother is left as a significant adult, then jealousy of the younger is not balanced by the care of another important adult.

Voluntary care for a younger one

Older children do not take part in the decision on the birth of younger ones. Therefore, all responsibility for caring for new family members lies with the parents. One of the worst things to do to build attachment between children is to shift some of the care of babies onto firstborns on the grounds that “we need help” and “you’re an adult.” If we want taking care of a brother or sister for older children to be a joy, then it can only be provided voluntarily, at will, and last as long as the elders want. The abrupt loss of habitual status and the emergence of new responsibilities in no way contribute to the manifestation of love for those because of whom it happened. No matter how hard it is for mom and dad, it is their decision to have another child, and only for them to deal with the consequences. Help from other people can only be voluntary. If this rule is observed, then the elders are often pleased to tinker with their new relatives for a while, play with them, change diapers, sit with the baby, knowing that this pastime will not turn into a burden. Then the relationship between children will be warmer.

Retaining the elder child status

When parents have new children, the illusion often arises that the first-borns have suddenly matured sharply. Then a three-four-year-old baby from “she’s only three years old” turns into “she’s already three years old.” This is manifested in a sharply increased demand for elders, and this contrast, if not recognized by the parents, persists for a long time. In the stories of older children who have grown up, there is often bitterness from the fact that they suddenly ceased to be beloved kids for their parents and turned into “main helpers”.

What will help the child to make sure that his parents did not leave him for this “newcomer”?

Moreover, it was impossible to get out of this honorable duty: both sit at home with the “small”, and watch her on the street instead of communicating with girlfriends … An older child must have both his personal time and time to communicate with parents, which no one will take away from him – even the younger one (with the exception of force majeure situations). It is a very important experience to discover that a loved one for a while makes a choice only in your favor, leaving everyone else aside. An attempt by adults to simultaneously distribute attention to everyone is an illusion.

The present emotional support of the parents

No parent can give their older and younger children the support they need if they do not receive this care themselves. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for a mother to suddenly discover that with the birth of her first child that she has another capricious baby – a husband who, having lost his usual attention, begins to take offense and go into himself or outside the house. With the birth of subsequent ones, the situation may worsen. Our culture celebrates parental self-sacrifice, but child-centricity, when the needs of children are put first, leads to exhaustion of parents. In the end, it is the children who will have to adapt to the world as they grow up, and not the world will have to dance around the children. “You’re a mother!” – it is easy to say that when he himself is not included in the constant care of children.

There is another negative aspect to parental emotional exhaustion. The consciousness of children is naturally egocentric: if a parent suddenly moves away, then it is difficult for the child to realize that this may not be connected with him personally, but with something that happens to the adult, regardless of his relationship with his son or daughter. Self-centeredness leads to this experience: I have become less loved, so my parents move away. Resentment and fear can be expressed in different ways, including aggression against competitors. Therefore, when thinking about new children, it is important to understand how, when and where parents will recover: the attitude towards oneself as an inexhaustible source of energy has never justified itself.

You can name many other rules, but these four seem to me, the father of children of different ages, to be basic. It is important for parents to be able to take care of each other; only parents are responsible for raising children; the oldest child remains a child (adjusted for age); the elder’s emotional bond with more than one adult at all times. Then attachment overcomes the fear of being abandoned, and new brothers and sisters are not a threat of loneliness, but a source of new emotions and experiences.