Theme   Zac is leaving… me!
Category   Relationship with others

Today is a holiday; Maxime sees his big brother packing. When Maxime notices that his brother brings his fishing rod, he asks him why. He then discovers that his brother is getting ready to go fishing with his father. When Maxime understands that he is not invited, he starts crying, threatening to do something that would make them stay here.

Real Life Situation

He is leaving without me... Why?

For a 4-year-old, having an older sibling offers a lot of benefits: he has a friend to play with, someone who can help him achieve difficult tasks such as tieing his shoes or taking out his bicycle, someone who can protect him (if intimidated by older children), or take his defense in the presence of his parents, someone who can guide him and teach him new things (amazing tricks, games, etc.)

By experiencing these situations, most children develop a strong bond with their older sibling. But for some, this bond gets so strong that it actually develops into a form of emotional dependence. These children tend to constantly seek the presence of their older sibling (for instance, the child will sit beside his older sibling when watching TV, express the desire to come with him to see his friends, get into his bedroom just to see what he is doing, or will insist on doing the same activity, etc.)

When this bond exists, it is difficult for a child to see his sibling leave. For some, it will translate into a frustration resulting from a perceived sense of injustice ("That's not fair! I want to go too"). For others, the separation may translate into a real sense of despair and sadness. Some will even feel guilty (for instance, a child may think that his sibling is leaving because he is angry or disappointed by his behavior). The situation becomes even more complicated when it deals with a half-sibling; indeed, a child can hardly understand why he is excluded from certain relationships.

In these cases, a child will often express his discomfort by rejecting everything. He may express some forms of resistance (by crying, sulking or forbidding his sibling to go out) and later express anger or sadness if the sibling ignores him.

Still being confronted to his sibling's desire to leave for a while (because he wants to play alone or with friends of his age, do something with his parents) is an enriching learning experience for a younger child. In addition to being given the opportunity to discover his inner resources (by playing alone or with a friend), he will also learn to respect others' need for privacy.

Tips for Parents

How can you help your child better accept being excluded from his sibling's activity?

  • Acknowledge your child's feelings
    Is your child's reaction related to a sense of frustration (because he would like to participate as well), sadness (because he thinks he might miss his sibling) or despair (because he is afraid of having nothing to do). The best way to know is to ask the question directly: "Is it because you're afraid of missing him or is it because you would like to go to the restaurant too?" You may also observe his reactions: is he angry: "It's not fair! Me too, I want to go!" or worried: "Will you be back before I go to bed?" Help your child understand his feelings. Stay calm and be tolerant even if you think he may be overreacting.

  • Help him understand his sibling's needs and desires
    Explain the reasons why he can't be with his sibling (for instance: "He wants to spend some time alone with his friends", "Sometimes, he likes to play alone", "Marc-André is going to see his father; you are not invited because Marc-André's father is not your father"). Tell him that his brother loves him very much and that it is not because his brother is disappointed in him that he is not included in his activity. If you are comfortable with the departure of your older child, your younger child will understand that it is important to respect the needs of others.

  • Encourage your child to keep busy while your older sibling is away
    Help your child adapt to the situation by helping him find a fun activity to do while his sibling is away. Try not to organize an activity to solve the problem. It is important for your child to find his own activity, to figure out what he feels like doing so he can learn how to handle these situations. You can help him by reminding him of the activities he likes and by offering to play with him if you can. When your older sibling is back, invite your younger child to tell everyone (at dinner time for instance) all the things he did while his sibling was away.

  • Avoid creating sibling rivalry
    Although it may be important to be equally fair to all your children, it is not recommended to count the number of rewards that are granted to each or to give the same reward to all. For instance, try not to remind your child that the last activity you did was for him and now is the turn of his older brother. By doing so, you actually encourage them to make comparisons to ensure that both activities are equal. But of course, they won't! The best way to be fair is to make sure that each of your children feels that he or she receives his or her fair share of rewards from time to time: "What would you like to do?", and fill these needs according to your means (for instance: "We can go skating but I can't offer you this toy; it is too expensive").

  • Help your child see the benefits of being left alone
    Help your child be aware of all the pleasures he can have while his older sibling is away (for instance: "Now you'll be able to watch your favorite TV program even though it airs at the same time as your sibling's", or "You'll be able to play videogames without being disturbed", etc.) Be available and turn this situation into a happy moment ("Since we're just the two of us, is there something we could do together?") By being available to him, you clearly show him that a situation that might have looked annoying may actually be quite fun by adding a touch of creativity.

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