How To Foster The Sibling Bond: Build Bridges Between Siblings Of Different Ages

Children who arrive two or three years apart have much in common, and often a strong bond exists between them almost naturally. However, when one sibling is eight, 10 or even more years older than their younger sibling, it takes work and time for a bond between them to develop. That’s where parents can really help.

In this post, we offer ideas on how you, as the parent, can help your older child feel more attached to their younger sibling. And conversely, we offer strategies for helping your younger child feel like this older person is not a stranger, but instead a trusted ally who will be there for them their entire lives.

1. Find interests they share and encourage them to do them together.

One child may be bordering on 14 while the younger is only five, but with a little investigating, you can learn of things they both love doing. For example – do they both love movies? If so, why not coordinate a Saturday matinee for them, taking turns choosing the movie they see? (Of course, it has to be age appropriate for the younger child!) Or do something as a family – bowling, maybe? — and put the two siblings on a team against their parents. When they join forces like this, it fosters a sense of “us against them” in a fun, lively and enjoyable way. Creating fun memories for both siblings is a great way to build their bond and bridge the gap between them.

2. Encourage them to tackle a project together.

It can be something as quick as building a fort in the living room on a rainy day, or having the younger child help the older one construct a project for the science fair. The goal is that they do something constructive together, whether it’s fun (like the fort) or more serious, like the science project.

3. What you don’t say matters, too. 

To strengthen their bond, it is up to you, as parents, to avoid creating a rivalry, at least as much as you can. That means not comparing them, either scholastically, or physically, or emotionally, or in any other way. Comments like “your brother was so good at math, I just can’t understand why you’re not” may not be intended as criticism when you say it, but remarks like that are received as such and leave a lasting impression. Children internalize these comparisons, particularly when they feel they are on the lesser end, and it can cause real and lasting issues with self-esteem. This is particularly true with girls; unfortunately, we still live in a culture that often measures a girl’s worth by her appearance. Any comments parents make about their size or looks can be a minefield if it is construed as criticism.

Saying something along the lines of “you are much bigger than your sister was at your age” is an invitation for insecurity, jealousy and trust issues between siblings. Even if you do compare them occasionally, keep your opinions to yourself or talk it over with your partner, never within earshot of your children.

4. Tell them of your love for your own older sibling.

If you grew up with a big brother or older sister who was grown and gone by the time you entered high school, tell your children some of your fondest memories of having that sibling at home. Perhaps they taught you something special, like how to dance or how to drive a car when you got your learner’s permit. Reminding them that there is an unbreakable bond between siblings no matter the age difference goes a long way toward reinforcing familial love. And they will be there for one another when you, their parents, have passed away – not something to dwell on, of course, but certainly worth mentioning.

5. Don’t ask the older child to act as babysitter all the time.

If they spend time together doing things they enjoy they won’t resent one another nearly as much. Parents sometimes unintentionally take advantage of their older child’s ability to babysit without giving them nights off from this sibling duty. Instead, hire a sitter from the neighborhood and let your older child off the hook. They won’t resent you – or their sibling – if they aren’t constantly asked to look after them.

6. Treat them equally as much as possible.

Naturally there are some circumstances in which the older child will seem to have more freedom, and that might spark a bit of envy in the younger child. After all, the older sibling gets to do all kinds of things first – go out unchaperoned, drive, and eventually move out of the house. But when you’re all together as a family, treat them with equal love, affection and respect, so the differences caused by the age gap don’t stand out quite as much.

Having children with big age gaps can be challenging for parents and for siblings. And if they are of different genders, that presents a whole other set of unique challenges on top of the age difference. However, when love is shown to them in equal measure, and your family does plenty of activities together that create lasting memories, no age gap can mar the bond between them. They will come to treasure one another, and will turn to each other during all of life’s big and small moments, whether they are times of great sadness, or great joy.  That is the enduring bond between siblings of any age.