I'm the Big Sister or Brother
It is important for parents to model healthy relationships with friends and family members to help young children understand and see the benefits of healthy behavior. The bond that sisters and brothers create between them can last a lifetime, and can prove to be a lifeline if one needs to reach out to the other for encouragement and support later in his/her life. Such support is a major protective factor throughout all parts of a person’s life.
Below are some suggested activities to help the older child create and strengthen that bond, while also learning how what he/she does affects the little one.
How I Can Help
Make an activity chart with your older child to show what he/she does with and for the younger child already and what he/she might like to do. Activities depend on the age of the older child but may include helping out at bath time, such as handing the caregiver lotion, powder, or a towel; spending time with the younger child playing with blocks; reading a picture book; or wiping a runny nose. Whatever the older child does already—and whatever else he/she wants to do—make sure you acknowledge and praise the effort shown to let him/her know you value the effort and the child.
I’m the Teacher
Younger children will learn from older children, sometimes faster than they will learn from their adult caretakers. Encouraging the older child to teach something to the younger child is one way to instill the importance of model behavior. The older child could teach the younger child a new song, how to go down the slide, how to tie shoes, or even how to read. Allow the older child to choose the teaching activity and provide a “stage” for both children to display the newly acquired skill to other family members. You might even make an “I’m the Teacher” badge for the oldest one and have the younger child draw a “thank you” picture for the older child to show his/her appreciation.
See It, Do It; Hear It, Say It!
Make a game with your oldest child to recognize ways your younger child imitates him/her. For example, does the younger child try to walk like the older one? Mimic facial expressions? Repeat what the older child says? Attempt a physical act, such as jumping down the last few steps? Help your older child divide these behaviors into categories: fun/funny, annoying/frustrating, nice/sweet, not good/scary. Guide the eldest to identify and substitute any behavior that he/she does not want imitated. This will be especially true of behaviors that fall into the “not good/scary” category. Then, together with your older child monitor the younger child’s responses to see if he/she changes. Talk about the responsibility involved in being a role model.