When Three Becomes Four (or Five or Six…)

6 Ways to Nurture Sibling Relationships 

It’s been an exciting few weeks with the arrival of the eighth cousin in our family – my sister’s second child. God has been all over this pregnancy and it is with a deep sense of gratitude and great joy that we welcome little Stephen Louis!


If you’d like to meet this gorgeous little boy, LOOK HERE

Rewind to a few weeks ago when my sister phoned and shared her thoughts. She wondered (with excitement and perhaps some anxiety): What will life be like with a toddler and a baby in the house? 

No doubt, together with all the excitement there will be huge changes ahead.

“Life is about change, sometimes it’s painful, sometimes it’s beautiful, but most of the time it is both.” Unknown

I remember those early days after Cara, my second girl, was born. During the week my husband worked in London while the girls and I stayed in The Netherlands. It was magical to have the privilege to stay at home with my two little girls – we had fun, we enjoyed each other’s company – but if I’m totally honest, those early days were filled with lots of hard work and very little sleep. After a few weeks, I could feel the initial excitement and novelty of having a new little baby in the house was slowly wearing off. I was suffering the effect of not getting enough sleep and my usually sweet-natured first-born turned into a little monster. Daddy wasn’t around much – and it was clear that it became a competition of note. The rules of the game were: do anything to get mommy’s attention – nag, complain, say “no” to everything, cry at a drop of a hat, throw yourself on the floor and refuse to do anything on your own. I found myself wondering how I was going to do this without losing it all – my joy, compassion, patience and sense of humour!

Well I’m glad to report I survived. My girls get on well (on most days!) but the challenge of nurturing the relationships in our home continues. So I sat down and wrote a few ideas and reminders for moms with new babies and for those of us who are intentional about this aspect of parenting.

A note to moms of newborns. If you feel too tired to even read this blog post to the end – it’s okay. Just read #1 and try that one tip. I promise you it will be worth it!

6 Ways to Nurture Sibling Relationships

1. One-to-one time

Playing with your child in a special way, a way in which he is the boss and leads the play, will strengthen the emotional bond between the two of you. It has a massive influence on the way that he think, feels and behaves.

  • Your child’s self-esteem will improve because he feels that his ideas matter.
  • Through the loving and playful encounters, feel-good hormones are released – his mood will be better and his behaviour will improve.
  • Self-regulation develops and improves because through your time together your child is able to make sense of how he feels.

Set aside 15-30 minutes per day to play one-to-one with your child. Use a timer to indicate the beginning and end. Switch off your phone. Be present – physically and emotionally. Say to your child that this is your special time to play together. Ask what he would like to play and go with that. You might be having a tea-party for the gazillions time, play dress-up, or even bang and crash toy cars off mountain cliff. Just let your child be. Keep back on all judgement – no praise or criticism. Get involved in the game as much as you can. Step out of your adult shoes, pretend you’re a child and have fun!

This is probably the single best piece of advice that takes the biggest investment on your side, but bears the biggest fruit. Trust me.

2. Play rough-and-tumble

Rough and tumble and other physical play, like blowing raspberries and chasing, also releases the feel-good-hormones. Make physical play part of your daily interaction with your child. This is a great way for dads to get involved too. Throw your child up in the air, hold him tight and roll with him, let him sit on your knees and play horsey-horsey, turn him upside down and swing him by his feet.

3. Nurture with rituals and predictable routines

Rituals and routines make us feel safe. For little children it helps make sense of this big overwhelming world.  Attempt to keep things predictable and within a flexible routine. Especially those rituals and routines that he enjoys, like the bath time and bedtime routine and your once-a-week popcorn and movie nights. Resist establishing new routines and attempting new development stages, like potty training or going from half-day nursery to full-day nursery in those first few months after the arrival of the new baby.

4. Reward positive behaviour

Be on the look-out for good behaviour. Praise immediately. Say things like: “I am so proud of you. You shared your toy beautifully” or “Wow, you are a star. You finished eating your food all by yourself.” Put stickers on charts, throw marbles in a jar, give hugs and kisses, whatever works. Be intentional about making a big deal each time you see your child doing something great.

5. Stick to the rules and don’t sweat the small stuff

In those early days, when it feels like all we say is “NO!”, it’s important to sit down with your spouse and decide on the most important value that you as a family would like to embrace. For us it is RESPECT. Under that umbrella value, we throw in goodness, kindness, compassion, love to name but a few. Our kids know that we don’t tolerate any pinching, hitting, biting or shouting at each other. We share, we say sorry and we ask for help. And back to those early days, as difficult as it might be, try to ignore those other little behaviours that don’t interfere with your one big family rule. As long as it doesn’t cause harm to others and the world around them, just look the other way. Your toddler will be trying to get your attention by doing all kinds of annoying things. Don’t give him the attention – you will only reinforcing negative behaviours. Rather reward positive behaviour and spend more one-to-one time. 

6. Show that you care

Getting a new sister or brother is huge. For a few years you were “the king” or “the queen” in the house and now suddenly you have to make space for another little “king” or “queen”. When it comes to an event like this, children may experience painful feelings like disappointment, jealously, loss and frustration. Painful feelings activate the stress chemicals in your brain and body. And in this situation remember we are dealing with big feelings, little bodies and an undeveloped brain. 

  • Have empathy. When your child is playing up, being difficult, nagging, complaining and tearful, show him that you care. Go down on your knees, put him on your lap and give him a tight hug.
  • Help name feelings. Say things like “I can see you feel frustrated because your toy broke” or “I understand that you are angry because mommy can’t play with you now”. Read your favourite stories together and focus on the feelings of the characters. Say something like: “The rabbit looks sad. How do you look when you’re sad?”
  • Encourage expression of feelings. Hit pillows, throw water balloons, stamp your feet while pretending to be animals and say “Sometimes when I’m angry my heart beats fast. When I hit a pillow or stamp my feet I feel better. But I never hit somebody else.”

Over to you:

Have you seen a difference in your child’s behaviour when doing child-directed play?


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