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Developing trust between toddler and sibling

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The relationship between siblings is very special, no matter what the age.  A good, trusting relationship does not just automatically happen.  As a parent, opportunities for developing this kind of relationship need to be given so that it can be built from a very young age.

When a child is told that a little brother or sister is on the way there is much excitement! But after the baby is born things aren’t quite as they imagined.  Their little brother or sister cries a lot and takes a lot of mom and dad’s attention. It’s hard for toddlers to play and share when they don’t know how to socialize.

This is the important time when the parents step in and they can practically help build and foster a relationship of trust between the siblings which will hopefully continue until they are adults.

Trust has a major part to play in a sibling relationship.  The meaning of the word trust is “a firm belief in the honesty, truthfulness, justice, or power of a person or thing” (Barnhart, 1987).  When siblings have a sense of trust in their relationship, it provides a good foundation for a meaningful relationship. If a good relationship is in place when they are young this helps as they grow older and face challenges in life. They know that they are there for each other. 

Erik Erikson was an American developmental psychologist and psychoanalyst who had a theory about the psychosocial development of people. He is well known in the area of child development and he has some valid points when looking at the importance of relationships between people.

In his theory he focuses on 4 stages of psychosocial development in children.

The first two are applicable to young children. Stage one is called Trust verses Mistrust and this occurs from birth to about 1 year.  A child needs to feel a sense of belonging and warmth from his family.  He needs to feel that he can trust his family to provide for his needs. We can take this further and also apply it to a relationship with a sibling. A trusting relationship between siblings is there so that they feel they can rely on someone and relate to someone besides their parents.  If there is mistrust between the child and the family at this young age he will develop a sense that no one can be trusted and that the world is an intimidating place.

The second stage is Autonomy verses Shame and Doubt.  This occurs in the ages 2-3 years of age.  During this stage of the child becoming more independent the older sibling has a vital role to play.  He will learn a lot from the older sibling and will model what he sees.  The older sibling can encourage the younger one as he grows and learns. Having a trusting relationship between the sibling’s means that the younger sibling can trust the older sibling and feel comfortable to learn from them.  If a younger sibling is battling with something and no one intervenes, they can feel a sense of failure and doubt themselves. 

Tips to build a trusting relationship between siblings:

Friendship: Siblings should be encouraged to be friends.  Encourage them to play together and spend time together.  Find games and activities that they both enjoy and encourage them to take turns to choose what game to play. 

Individuality: Help your children to realize that they are unique individuals with different strengths and weaknesses.  Siblings will argue and compete to see who is better! Parents need to intervene and help them see that there are advantages to having a sibling who has different strengths from their own. They can help with their problem areas.  Provide opportunities to talk about their differences and unique traits. 

Helping each other: Giving opportunities to help each other, instead of the parents always intervening, also helps develop trust in their relationship. They learn to rely on each other and ask for help when needed.  They also realize that their sibling is always there for them. 

Sorting out conflict: Conflict and arguments are bound to happen.  Siblings need to realize that it’s ok to get cross with each other but the situation needs to be dealt with then and there. Working through the emotions and the cause of the problem, with the parent’s guidance, not only helps the sibling’s problem solve but also helps them to realize the importance of solving conflict. Even with conflict it is important to emphasize the fact that they still love each other and can trust each other.  When helping them to solve conflict they also learn to understand each other more and it creates a sense of empathy.

Saying ‘I love you’:  These are very powerful words and it means a lot to vocalize this from a very young age. Siblings should be encouraged to say ‘I love you’ regularly to create a deeper relationship. 

Teaching young children to get on and have a good relationship can be challenging, but it is very important for them to realize that friends come and go but siblings are forever. 

Written By: Lauren Reddell (Gr 000 teacher at Trinityhouse Pre-Primary Little Falls)

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