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Sibling Admiration
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When I was growing up, my younger brother and I fought all the time. We loved each other, and as adults we are close friends, but boy, did we fight. Looking back, I am sometimes surprised we both survived to be adults.

When I got married, and my wife and I had kids, the last thing we wanted was for our kids to grow up “just like daddy”—or mommy. (My wife and her brother had fights that made mine look tame.) When we were expecting our second, my wife and I decided we would work to keep sibling rivalry contained. My oldest was then four. 

Like many children that age, he adored daddy. Daddy was the best. I used that. I took him aside, and told him that he would soon have a new brother or sister. Then, I started shaping his opinions. I started with the bad news. I told him that people would pay more attention to the baby than to him. I explained that it was like new toy. When you get a new toy, people pay more attention to the new toy than to the old ones. After a while you go back to the old ones. I also told him that his new brother or sister would not be a playmate at first. Babies have to grow before they can play with you.

Being the Big Brother  

Then I gave him good news. I talked about how he looked up to daddy, and thought daddy was the best. I told him as the baby grew older, the baby would look at his big brother the same way. “You will be around the baby more than I can be,” I said, “because I will be at work. That means the baby will look up to you, the way you look up to me, if you give the baby the chance to.” That meant he could not be mean to the baby. If he was mean, the baby would not look up to him. “You would not think daddy was great, if I were mean to you all the time.” I finished by saying, “You know what?  Having someone think you are the best ever—that is really great. It is one of the best things about being a daddy—or a big brother.”

That talk changed things. The baby was now an opportunity for big brother to earn the baby's attention.

My wife and I nourished and cultivated the seed I planted with that talk. It was hard work, but the harvest it yielded repaid the effort. My oldest worked to earn the admiration of his younger brother—who returned it. They grew up as partners, not rivals. When a third brother joined them, both worked at being role-models for their youngest brother.

Instead of sibling rivalry there was mutual admiration.

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By Mark N. Lardas. Copyright © 2008 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

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