Coaching Your Youngest Child
“You always win because you’re eight! But someday I’ll be nine, and then I’ll be older than you, and I’ll win!”- Five year old.
Being a younger child doesn’t seem fair. No matter how old you get, your big sibling gets there first. And from the younger child’s point of view, the big sibling is perfect. He knows how to do everything the younger child aspires to.
Younger sibs often idolize and copy their older sibs. But being younger usually means they can't compete, and it's not unusual for younger sibs to get demoralized trying to “keep up.” How can you support your younger child when he gets frustrated? And how can you help a child who worships his big sibling but often gets pushed around?
1. Teach younger siblings positive ways to ask older siblings for attention.
“Can you tell your sister in words that you missed her when she was at school, instead of hanging on her? Say ‘I missed you… Can we play this afternoon?’”
2. Coach younger siblings to express their needs assertively.
“Are you both having fun with this? You can tell your sister if you're done with the game."
“I hear you. Now your brother needs to hear you. Do you want me to come with you while you tell him?”
You can’t change the fact that his big brother can jump higher, but you can empathize with how sad and frustrated he is. Sometimes, that’s enough.
4. When your younger child feels he’ll never catch up,
Encourage him to be his personal best without using his sibling as his yardstick.
“I’m not as good at baseball as Joaquin is.”
“You’re you! You don’t need to be like Joaquin. If you love baseball and keep practicing, you can be your own personal best at baseball. That’s what matters.”
5. Ask older siblings to help teach skills to younger siblings.
The younger sibling may not be able to match the older one’s skill level, but being coached by her older sister will take the sting out of it. She’ll see the possibility that some day she’ll achieve her goal. And the older sibling will begin to take an interest in the younger one's development, so they're likely to be kinder.
6. When children complain that older siblings get privileges they don’t,
Empathize and address their needs.
“It’s not fair! How come he gets to fly to visit Grandpa and I have to stay home?”
Acknowledge your child’s desire—the exciting, grown-up adventure of going on a plane to visit Grandpa—and give it to her in fantasy:
“You wish you could visit Grandpa too? It sounds exciting to fly on a plane on your own, doesn’t it? That sounds like so much fun. Maybe you’ll be able to go when you get a little older—and I know you still wish you could go this year.”
Remember, too, that she may be seeing her older sibling’s privilege as evidence that her sibling is loved more. Find a way to give her the love and connection she craves while meeting the needs she’s expressing in an age-appropriate way.
“I’m hearing that you’re longing for adventure, and maybe more independence. Let’s think of some special adventures we could have together – just me and you…..And maybe you’re ready for more adventures on your own, too! ”
7. Tell stories to give perspective about birth order.
“When I was a kid, your Uncle Steve was my little brother. I was bigger, and I could always win if we had a fight. But soon he got a lot taller than me, and I couldn’t push him around any more. As you get older, you and your brother will be the same size. You might even be bigger!”
8. Encourage your middle child in all passions, but particularly in ones that are not already "taken" by the older kids.
Youngest kids usually get attention by being the baby, but they need to feel like they can shine, too, by being good at things. It's hard to compete with a child who is older, so it's beneficial if your youngest has some turf that is all his.
9. Be sure you aren't teaching your youngest to cultivate 'powerlessness.'
Coach your youngest (like all your kids) to stand up for themselves, but don't make the older kids give in to your youngest routinely, or you'll be creating resentment on the part of the older sibs. Also, be sure youngest children have regular social interactions outside the family, where they have more power, so they don’t only learn the role of giving in to the older kids.
10. Keep parenting!
Most parents are hardest on their oldest kids, who often respond by working harder but also becoming more anxious. By the time the youngest comes along, many parents have relaxed, which can be a good thing. But that doesn't mean you don't expect your youngest to be her best self, and it doesn't mean you don't set limits. Your youngest should feel just as seen and valued as your oldest, which means you need to keep actively parenting, even as your ideas about parenting evolve.