What do you do when older kids refuses to help with younger siblings? Follow these tips to encourage your child to help willingly and on her own.
The image of the responsible older child helping with younger siblings? It wasn’t happening for SSBE reader, Isabella. She wrote:
Hi Nina! I have 3 year old twins, and a 13 year old daughter. My 13-year-old doesn’t like helping out with the younger kids and I don’t know how to get her to play and interact with them.
How to get your child to help with younger siblings
Hats off to Isabella for reaching out with what can only be a frustrating experience. And here’s what I told her:
1. Understand and accept your child
Ideally, older kids help with younger siblings and even assume responsibility. And these are values we should encourage in all our kids.
At the same time, accept that your child may not want to care for babies. She may be developing a sense of self, which right now doesn’t include playing with her younger siblings.
As difficult as it may be not to see an instant bond, realize that we all react differently to new siblings. Some may embrace them and assume the role of helper. Others, like my eldest, feel scared of these babies when they first arrive.
The good news? It’s still possible to encourage siblings to get along, even from a young age. It’ll come with time (with the help of the tips I’ll give below).
2. Give “big kid” responsibilities
Get kids on board by assigning bigger responsibilities than they’re used to or expecting. Something about doing a task above usual pushes us to rise to that level.
Don’t just ask your thirteen-year-old to fetch the baby’s food—have her feed as well. Ask her to soothe him when he’s fussy or allow her to push the stroller during a walk.
She’ll feel more important, like a contributing member of the family.
Don’t give her sole responsibility, but let her feel mature and responsible. She might be more willing to do those than petty tasks anyone else can do.
My eldest takes pride in being able to pour water into his twin brothers’ cups and washing their dishes. These are tasks the little ones can’t or don’t do regularly, and he feels a special privilege and responsibility for doing so.
3. Give autonomy
Watching her like a hawk as she washes dishes isn’t going to make her want to wash anything. Instead, let your child help in whatever way she wants. Autonomy isn’t just independence. It’s the time and space to do something in ways you feel is best, without someone micromanaging.
How do you make sure she does a good job?
- Start off with her watching you how to do the task.
- Then do it together so she gets the hang of it with your help.
- Next, switch places and have her do the task while you watch.
- And the last step? Leaving her to do the task on her own.
It’s fine to give feedback, especially if the job isn’t quite cutting it. But if the results pass—even if it’s not how you would do it—then let it go. It’s okay if she stacks the dishes north-south instead of east-west.
Giving your child autonomy will make her want to help and actually feel good about it.
4. Praise your child
Let your child know she’s doing a great job being a big sister, no matter how small the act. Point out how she made the baby laugh with the rattle. Tell her thanks for carrying the diaper bag. Make sure she knows you appreciate all that she does.
It’s easy to forget these small acts, especially when we have a million things still to do. But, like anyone else, your child will appreciate feeling recognized. The best part? Reinforcing this behavior will only lead to even more of it.
5. Establish positive relationships among your kids
Even with a big age gap, siblings can still form positive relationships. Remind them that these little siblings will grow up and they’ll all be adults. Point out any sibling relationships you know with a big age gap so they can see what it looks like in the future.
And don’t tolerate siblings being mean to one another. Calling names and being rude aren’t appropriate ways to handle conflict. Your kids will fight and feel frustrated at each other, no doubt. But encourage a healthier way to resolve conflict in a respectful way.
6. Spend one-on-one time with your older child
Welcoming new siblings not only turns your life around, but your older child’s as well. A new baby is a huge change for her. She may just shrug it off, but it’s a big deal she may feel unsure about.
As hard as it is to carve time out with a new baby, spend one-on-one time with your child. Even 10 minutes every day adds up. Things like taking her to school, reading a book or chatting after the baby has gone to bed.
Older kids need us just as much as our new babies. Acknowledge how hard this must be. Her emotions are just as valid, even if she seems much older than her younger siblings.
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I’m the youngest of five siblings, my eldest sister 14 years older than me. Age gaps might seem more obvious in the younger years. After all, what would a 14-year-old want to do with an infant?
But even with a big age gap, you learn to form unique relationships with your older siblings. Maybe one becomes the “second mom” who takes care of you as well as your own mom. Maybe another is the “cool big sister” you want to emulate.
Each sibling pair will have their own special relationship. Encourage your child to help with younger siblings, yes. But do so for reasons she’ll agree to. Things like assuming responsibility. Making others feel good. Bonding with you.
With a positive outlook and effective tips, you can get your older child to help with younger siblings. All without an eye roll.
Get more tips:
- 4 Ways to Help Your Older Child Handle Baby Crying
- Essential Tips on Caring for a Baby AND Your Older Child
- Helping Your Older Child Adjust to a New Baby
- What to Do when Your Child Disrespects You
- Second Child Guilt: When You Feel Guilty about Adding to the Family