What do you do when your older child won’t help with younger siblings? Follow these tips to encourage her to help willingly and on her own.
The image of the responsible older child helping younger siblings? It’s not exactly happening for you.
She’s capable and independent enough to pitch in when her younger siblings need it, but she simply doesn’t like helping out. And forget about asking her to play or interact with them.
And you could definitely use the help. You might be on a phone call or nursing the baby when her younger sister says she can’t peel her banana. Even getting her to fetch their utensils or hang a fallen jacket is met with grumbles, moans, and the all-annoying eye roll.
How to get your child to help with younger siblings
No doubt, older siblings can do plenty to help in the household, even as young as preschoolers. Grabbing a burp cloth, wiping a mess, or even entertaining younger siblings add up, especially on busy days.
While they can’t bear the heavy burden of doing everything, they can certainly do their part to pitch into the family. How do you encourage her to think of others and help, without the power struggles?
Take a look at these tips to get your child to help with younger siblings:
1. Give your child “big kid” responsibilities
Something about doing a task above what we’re used to pushes us to rise to that level. That’s why one of the best ways to get your older child on board is by assigning bigger responsibilities than she usually does.
Don’t just ask her to fetch the baby’s food—have her feed him as well. Encourage her to play with him or push the stroller during a walk. Perhaps you ask her to pour water into her little brother’s cup or do her laundry.
Of course, you don’t want to give her the sole responsibility, but let her feel mature and responsible. She can be more willing to do these tasks, especially if her siblings can’t do them yet. They become almost like a privilege she “gets” to do.
And stress how much she’s contributing to the family by doing these important tasks that her siblings can’t do on their own.
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2. Understand and accept your child
Ideally, your older child will help with her younger siblings and even assume responsibility on her own. At the same time, accept that she may not want to care for her younger siblings. She may be developing a sense of self, which right now doesn’t include playing with her little sister or holding the baby.
As difficult as it may be not to see an instant bond between her and her younger siblings, show empathy and realize that we all react differently. Some may embrace them and assume the role of helper. Others, like my eldest, feel scared when the new baby arrives.
Respect her temperament and personality. Don’t force or guilt her into doting on her siblings when these activities don’t interest her.
Instead, find group activities that they both enjoy and can do together. Maybe they both enjoy riding their bicycles or playing chess. These are the ways she can help and entertain her younger siblings that match her interests.
Read more about accepting your kids for who they are.
3. Give your child autonomy
One reason your older child might grumble about helping out is that she isn’t given enough autonomy.
Watching her like a hawk as she laces her sister’s shoes isn’t going to make her want to do so again. Instead, let her help in ways that she’s willing and able. Autonomy isn’t just independence—it’s the time and space to do something in ways you feel are best, without someone micromanaging.
How do you make sure she does a good job?
- First, start with her watching you do the task.
- Then, do the task 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.
Here’s an example. Let’s say you want her to help make the beds. Have her watch as you make their beds, and the next day, invite her to help as you do it together. Then another time, have her make the beds on her own while you’re nearby to watch.
Once you feel like she can do this well without your help, you can then leave her to the task without supervision.
It’s fine to give feedback, especially if what she’s doing 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 doesn’t fluff the pillows or stretch the sheets so long as she got most of the job done right.
Giving her autonomy can encourage her to want to help and feel good about it.
Read more about the benefits of giving your child autonomy.
4. Praise your child
Let your child know he’s doing a great job being a big sibling, no matter how small the act. Point out how he made his brother laugh with the rattle, and thank him for carrying the diaper bag. Make sure he knows you appreciate all that he does.
It’s easy to forget these small acts, especially when we have a million things still to do. But, like anyone else, he can appreciate feeling recognized. The best part? Reinforcing this behavior can lead to even more of it.
5. Establish positive relationships among your kids
Your older child might not feel like she could help her younger siblings because of a large age gap. Or she doesn’t see how she could play with a baby who doesn’t do much in return.
But even with a big age gap or a baby for a sibling, they can still form positive relationships. Remind her that her sister will grow up and eventually play as she does. Point out other sibling relationships—whether younger children or adults—with a big age gap so she can see how hers can look in the future.
And don’t tolerate sibling rivalry and being mean to one another. Calling names and being rude aren’t appropriate ways to handle sibling conflict. Yes, they’ll fight and feel frustrated with each other, but encourage interactions that promote conflict-resolution skills in a respectful way.
Read how to teach conflict resolution for children.
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 sibling is a huge change for her, even if it seems like she shrugs it off.
As hard as it is to carve time out with more than one child, spend special time with her as well. Even 10 minutes every day adds up. Things like taking her to the park, reading a book, or chatting after her siblings have gone to bed can make a meaningful difference.
Older kids need us just as much as our younger ones. Acknowledge how hard having siblings can be. Her emotions are still valid, even if she seems much older than the others.
I’m the youngest of five siblings, my eldest sister is 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, we learn to form unique relationships with our older siblings. Maybe one becomes the “second mom” who takes care of you, while another is the “cool big sister” you want to copy.
Each sibling pair will have its own special relationship. Encourage your child to help with younger siblings, yes. But do so for reasons she can agree to, like having “bigger” responsibilities, making others feel good, and even bonding with you.
With a positive outlook, 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
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