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The Early Years: Promoting positive sibling relationships

Have you heard this expression: "The best thing you can give your child is a sibling"? I remember hearing that and thinking how great it would be for my daughter to have a sibling and a built-in playmate. I envisioned two best friends playing together for hours on end. I still agree with that saying, but I did learn that bringing another child into the picture doesn't come without some new struggles. As parents or grandparents how can we encourage our kids to have positive sibling relationships?

First of all, we can allow and encourage siblings to nurture each other. When the baby is crying or hungry, have the older sibling try to soothe him or her with a toy, a bottle, or by trying to make him or her laugh. Older kids can deliver a snack, help reach a toy, read a story, or offer advice on how they handled a similar problem when they were that age. Encourage kids to share accomplishments with each other. Have your three-year old show the baby how to do a somersault, or a dance. Watch with your oldest how the baby learned to roll over and celebrate the achievement together. When we are excited and praise our kids for their accomplishments, we are setting a great example for our kids to follow when they see a sibling doing something new.

To promote positive relationships for our kids, we need to arrange opportunities to allow siblings to spend time together. At a very early age, kids get involved in many different activities -- dance, karate, music lessons and sports. There are also electronics and television programming that keep kids occupied. Siblings need to have regular unstructured time where they can explore their relationship and figure out how to play together. We can help make this possible by setting the stage for success. There are times, for some reason, when siblings just don't get along very well. You can help them get back on track by recreating play opportunities they have enjoyed in the past. For example, if in the past you know the kids enjoyed playing in the bathtub together, have them take an afternoon bath. Or if they like to make forts together, pull out some sheets and get them started. A snack in the fort is always a highlight!

Setting up special family time, activities or outings can nurture close sibling bonds. What are some activities your family enjoys doing together? Each family will have different interests. Maybe you like going to museums, hiking, having a game night, going to the zoo, or making a meal together. The activity itself isn't really that important, but sometimes doing something with just your family is.

Planning fun family activities is a great investment in the lives of our kids. We want them to remember doing fun things together as a family, laughing and enjoying their siblings. Over the years your child's friends will come and go but their siblings will be with them forever. Let's do what we can to encourage positive sibling relationships.

Deb Archer is an Early Childhood and Family Education teacher and the owner of Kickstart Preschool