When we decided to have our second child only two years after our first, I imagined what I would soon see: two children, close in age, playing blissfully in the backyard without my assistance or intervening. They would of course love each other and only quarrel occasionally. They would certainly wrangle the occasional fight into a love-locked embrace that would eventually shape their temperaments into self-assured and happy adults. It’s what I had (or thought I had) as a child — and I wanted that close sibling bond for my own children.
And then reality struck.
There’s nothing easy about parenting children at two different developmental stages. With their own needs and limitations, I’ve found that the core of most sibling conflict occurs from their varying developmental abilities.
Here are 4 struggles that come with parenting different developmental stages and tips to overcome them:
Struggle: When my son was an infant, his demanding sleep schedule definitely cramped the social life of my adventurous toddler. She was bored, and I felt bad for not entertaining her.
Tip #1: An infant needs to sleep, and while baby #2 is likely flexible in his routine, naps are vital for proper growth and development. Likewise, your older child is ready to learn the art of independent play. Set up stations at home for simple crafting, reading and pretend-play. Use a timer (start off with just a couple of minutes) and set the expectation that playing alone doesn’t mean being bored. This will take practice, but will help the development of both of your little ones.
Struggle: Now a toddler, my youngest is learning to share and communicate. He’s in a stage where everything is his, if he wants it. Because of this, my preschooler is constantly practicing the art of patience. I find myself telling her, “He’s just a baby, let him have it” or “Don’t taunt your brother, he doesn’t understand the joke.”
Tip #2: To combat the parenting struggle of teaching a toddler to share with a preschooler in tow, I embrace a team mentality. My older child learns how to work as a team, with me as the team captain, to accomplish a goal (like teaching her little brother how to share) and gets to celebrate success with ownership.
Struggle: Sometimes I have mommy guilt over my oldest child’s fall from focus. She now has to share what she’s always prized most: my attention. As she coils inward, I watch as she struggles with patience and being nice to her brother when all she wants is me. Sometimes I wonder if she even loves him at all.
Tip #3: I used to apologize because she had to share her time with me, but I’ve since abolished that practice. I’ve let go of the mommy guilt. My husband and I have given her a precious gift of a sibling, and I’ve come to appreciate her self-centered vantage point as a developmental stage that all preschoolers go through. For now, I continue to reinforce a strong family and sibling bond, understanding that her full appreciation of the relationship is still a few years away.
Struggle: At almost 5-years-old, my daughter is learning right from wrong. She has concrete boxes into which she fits each behavior — and she’s become a perpetual tattler. Seeing how she tries to understand why one rule applies to her, but not her brother is now a huge parenting struggle.
Tip #4: The best way to combat this parenting struggle is to talk it out. Being the oldest child, I understand how things seem unfair when rules are applied differently. Let your child express these frustrations without judgment — and empathize with the position she was born into. Allow her the space to criticize her younger sibling — and be a source of support for her. By modeling loving behavior, you’re setting an example for how your older child will treat her younger sibling in the future.