Author: BBST

When You Can Do Things They Can’t

My blog is all about being an older sibling, a status I love and take seriously. Growing up in a family of multiple offspring is a privilege and when you are the first born, you have responsibilities galore that come with the territory. No one had to force me I am proud to confess. I have always been a mentor and trusted guide to the younger family members. Parents with several children face issues if the older sibling is not on the team. Let me say that everyone misses out on lifelong friendships if this is not the case. Therefore, I advocate doing what you can to set things right day one.

There are so many situations where older children can serve as guides. It can be as simple as getting dressed on your own and learning how to hold a fork and knife to riding a bike. In my family, I had the added pleasure of showing everyone how to use our new family hot tub from Hottest Tubs when I was about twelve. I had to decide in the absence of my vigilant parents when a sibling was old enough to join me in the bubbling hot water. Kids that misbehave are also not mature enough to participate if they don’t follow the “rules.” I loved establishing them and asserting my authority. Since I did it at the ripe age of ten, it continued for my entire life at home.

I was horrified at the stories of pool drownings in the newspaper. Word got around fast at school. Therefore, watching my little brother and sister was a very responsible job. We loved playing games in the pool on hot summer days. I always led the way over the years until the kids were old enough to swim alone—as young teens. I was conservative about what I allowed. I felt like a second parent in a way. For the first-tier parents, I have some advice. Make the hot tub a place of fun and frolic, but not a danger zone. Make sure the rules are posted in nicely printed letters. This way neighborhood kids who are invited over will clearly see them. I was never bossy, but I lovingly initiated various games. When my brother and sister were tots, these consisted of tossing a small ball or floating on a cute animal raft. We had a duck and an alligator, both water creatures. I made a ritual out of putting on swimsuits so the day would seem special.

Since I started young with my siblings as an authority figure who knew the ropes, everyone followed my lead with ease. In fact, they did in better with me than my parents. With them, they would often cry when they were told it was time to rest and get out of the tub. I knew how to lure them with hot dogs or cookies. I was careful to keep big, soft terry cloth towels nearby.

Acknowledging Greatness

Every family has its dynamic and they can be unique. In some, the parents dominate and control virtually all activity. This can be a bit restraining and curb freedom of thought. It doesn’t foster creativity for the most part. I prefer a looser structure, but we do have one and we call it Older Siblings Rule. Everyone respects it and looks forward to what these kids decide. The younger ones acknowledge their experience and greatness when they come up with new ideas. Most decisions sit on the practical side of the equation or apply to special occasions. Recently the rule was applied to an impending celebration for the family.

The older siblings needed a designated space for a grand party as they planned on many guests. We don’t often have such events so we wanted to include friends, neighbors, colleagues, and extended family. Where would there be enough room? We thought about the basement as it is roomy and fairly well organized, but it is gloomy. We could rent a public hall, they suggested, and we started to look around. There are community enters and churches that have rooms for special occasions. Finally, we found the right one. It was big enough and had windows for natural light. No gloom. It was plain but it could be decorated and the ceiling lighting was pretty attractive. The older siblings would be in charge of making the room attractive. It would be the party of a lifetime. The younger kids would be recruited for various tasks such as helping display food and clean up. During the party, everyone would be socializing and making guests welcome. But there was one matter that had to be taken care of first.

Oddly enough, the rented room, as nice as it looked, smelled kind of moldy. Perhaps because it hadn’t been aired out in quite a while. We requested the caterer to pry open as many windows as he could to let in fresh air. He also suggested renting an air purifier and turning it on the day before so it had plenty of time to be in operation. We would also spray the room with a mild scent or thought of lighting candles for the table. I am told they absorb odor. With all these ploys, we hoped to have the problem taken care of. If not, it was up to the older siblings to take charge. They found that they could rent a large air purifier or had the option to add a second or third. Each would be placed strategically around the room. We hoped they wouldn’t be noticed or at least not as much as the moldy smell.

The day of the party, the room was fine. No telltale mold. During the party there was nary a single complaint or remark about the units. As they did make a bit of a noise, we turned them off well before guests arrived. Because of our advanced planning, it was a delightful party beautiful lit with an assortment of candles.

Real Life Role Model

In our family we have a policy of Older Siblings Rule. The concept is quite obvious. When you have many children, inevitably they form teams or pacts. This makes for peace when it comes to disagreements and decisions. Every family has plenty of them and they can be trying on the nerves. We have our own solution. We have been doing it for years and it works. The younger kids are all for compliance and they toe the line. It just happened without coercion. I can say that we pride ourselves on this model and I have discussed it positively with other parents. They find it a creative solution to diverse family matters and some have vowed to try it as other methods have not worked. You can’t dictate policy to everyone uniformly. Each child in the family has their own interests and concerns, so when one of the older siblings has a request, we all listen.

One of the older children has had a mentor, a nurse, who has been an influence in her life for some years. She met her when she was a school nurse when my child was quite young in elementary school. They stayed in touch when she left the school and they were able to have regular meetings from time to time. Sometimes time flies and they are not always able to get together. My children all have so many activities that it is near impossible to work in everything you want to do. But this mentor is important and time had to be made for an upcoming meeting so the nurse wouldn’t feel slighted. Since it had been awhile, my daughter wanted to bring something with her as a token of their friendship and respect. It had to be special showing some thought behind it. In effect, she wanted to give her a gift as a thank you for her years of loyalty. What to buy? Since my daughter and the nurse had many discussions about the profession and the possibility of my child following in her footsteps someday, we wanted the gift to mean something. We pondered it for some time and came up with the idea of a really good stethoscope. After all, such an item is a symbol of the medical profession. It is ubiquitous for nurses. Every time this particular nurse would use it, she could think of my child. This would be far better than a piece of jewelry, a wallet, or some other nondescript practical item that would long be forgotten over time.

The day came for their meeting and my daughter returned home, her face beaming with a smile. She was extremely pleased with the reaction to the gift. The nurse loved the stethoscope and found it most appropriate. She was touched by the gesture and the two vowed to meet more often than they had been. The best kind of mentor is one you have for life.

Swimmer Safety

Summer comes and with it all the wonderful outdoor activities that kids love. Our family enjoys trips to the lake for a canoe ride and some basic splashing around. We also love picnics in the early evening in the park when all the other families are also out and the kids have their friends to play with. Inevitably someone brings a ball or some other games and the evening passes quickly. The kids also stay indoors watching TV and playing video games with their little companions. I don’t prefer too much time in the house, but they often take a break and go for a swim in the pool. Of course, that requires significant supervision by a parent. When we are not around, we ask our older kids to babysit their younger siblings. They are good swimmers and very attentive so we trust them to keep up good surveillance when the little ones are in the water. They know the house rules for swim parties and they make sure all swimmers adhere to them.

  1. Kids can never swim alone.
  2. Kids must tell an adult they intend to swim and locate one who can sit by the pool.
  3. Kids must adhere to safety rules in the water which includes not dunking others under in a surprise attack.
  4. Even when an adult or older sibling is present, swimmers must keep their eyes open and watch for any problems. No one is perfect so the more who are vigilant, the better for safety purposes.
  5. Kids must not scream and yell loudly. It may be mistaken for a problem.
  6. You can teach your kids to signal you if they are in trouble with a hand gesture.

You can see that swimmer safety is very important at our house. Anyone who owns a pool, whether it is an above ground swimming pool or an in ground one has to have rules and train their kids at an early age. While it may be tempting fate, it is okay in our book to allow older siblings to take charge if they are swimmers and have learned water safety and rescue. You are the judge about what age is sufficient to be a poolside spectator and lifeguard. The first time you, as the parent, may want to be there to discuss the rules and the importance of constant safety. There are too many pool accidents reported in the press to be too cavalier about this. Every family with a pool should have group discussions about usage and stress the prohibition of swimming alone for kids. This can be tempting for young ones who are not mature enough to judge, but the more you focus on this taboo, the greater their absorption of the rule.

Happy and safe families have fun together and apart and above all they have safety rules for whatever activity is pursued. One must always be mindful of how children can act in spontaneous ways and do what they can to prevent problems. Parental control is the key to safety when you have a swimming pool above ground or other.

Making the Time to Mentor

Making the Time to Mentor

We understand that you have a super busy life. Friends, school, work, and other obligations make it hard to find time in the day to fit in something like mentoring your younger siblings. However, something that will help them grow into the best person they can be will certainly be worth your time. Believe it or not, it doesn’t take a huge time commitment. Not even a whole day! Here are a couple of suggestions to find some time to mentor:

In the car. There will be car rides where you and your sibling are stuck with each other. They will have nowhere to go and no way to escape you. Even if all you do is complain about your parents’ taste in music together, you are forming a bond. They may be more willing to open up when it is not a face-to-face discussion. That makes car rides the perfect time to talk to them about what is going on in their life, and possibly offer some positive words or suggestions to help them through a tough time.

During a physical activity. Do you play a sport? Try to include them when you need practice. You can have a great conversation while shooting hoops or playing catch. Even if it is just talking a walk around the block with the family dog, give it a try. Physical activity is a great way to bond with a younger sibling. Keep in mind that they may just be learning the motor skills involved in a sport, so try to take it easy on them!

At the table. Is there a time of day when the two of you are sitting at the table together? It doesn’t even have to be a meal. If you’re making yourself a snack, invite them to join you. Try to engage them in conversation while you’re sitting together.

Watching television or playing a game. Take turns watching favorite programs or playing games and find out what interests them, even if it is babyish or lame. Find out what they like about it. You might be surprised to see that you have similar interests and can help steer them toward something that you may both like.

If you are going out with friends and it is an activity that your sibling might enjoy, consider including them. Be sure that it is age appropriate. They will think that they’ve died and gone to heaven when they get an invitation to hang out with the cool kids. It is a great opportunity to show them how you act away from your parents and home. All of these suggestions are in your day to day life and won’t take up too much of your time. Your little brother or sister will be delighted to see that you care enough to learn more about them or to help them with something. Never underestimate what a few moments out of your day will mean to them. If you aren’t sure where to start, ask them a specific question like what their favorite activity is at school or to name the most interesting thing that happened to them that day. All you have to do after that is listen—really listen—to their answers.

What do you think of our list? Did we miss anything?

Cool Hand-Me-Downs

What child with siblings doesn’t ever get hand-me-downs sooner or later? It isn’t always a matter of keeping to a clothing budget. Some clothing just doesn’t get worn out and it seems wasteful not to give them more life. They are in perfectly good condition. If you start this practice when the kids are young, they will get used to it and even expect it. I know some kids who can’t wait to get an older siblings clothes and they often have their eye on a favorite frock. This can apply to backpacks as well, and almost any useful item that could be used for school.

If you think you are unlucky enough to have a child who balks at hand-me-downs, then you have to get a bit creative to give them a fresh look. Almost anything can be recycled but made to appear new. Think of clothing. You can dye the fabric, add decorative details and logos, shorter or lengthen pants and skirts, and so much more. Let your mind imagine options. Or let your children participate in refashioning their own items. Sports logos are a great way to update a tee shirt or parka.

One of the biggest hand-me-downs in my family is a bicycle. These are costly and certainly must be passed on after the original child has outgrown it. Some kinds resent that they aren’t the first one in line and don’t get the new item, but such is life. It is not about being fair but being practical. This is a great lesson to teach that will guide their lives. One way I handle the concept of newness or old hat is to repurpose the bike. I use a paint spray gun to paint our old bikes so they look shiny, colorful, and absolutely new. Thank goodness for the spray gun. It has had many craft uses in our home. A young child may make a mess of the job so it is best for mom or dad to handle it. Otherwise, you may find a paint-covered child. It takes some masking tape so that you can guide where the paint is to be applied.

You can use more than one color or add a trim accent if you are deft at handling the gun. Let your recipient of the hand-me-down bike decide on colors so there are no regrets. They will no doubt ride this vehicle for some time until it suits the next child. It will no doubt be at least a year or two. So you have a practical solution to saving money and keeping certain items moving on through the family. Most kids will not complain if they have been taught sharing. They may even look forward to getting an older siblings old bike as no doubt they admired it when it was new. Being creative will get you out of most fixes when it comes to recycling so use your imagination and your artistic skills in any way you can.

Do as I Say, Watch as I Do

Happy mother with two daughters

One thing that holds true across all environments: whether you are at work, school, or at home, is that people are going to watch your behavior. Like it or not, they are forming an opinion about the things you say and do. Especially if the two things contradict one another. You can talk all you want about being a good person or a great employee, but if you don’t also walk the walk, you will not get the results you are looking for. You cannot simply hope that others are going to follow the example of your words. People want someone to inspire them with words, and they are looking for someone who will lead them by example. It is your job as a mentor to be sure that your actions and words send a clear message that you would be proud for someone else to emulate.

If parents don’t already know this before they have children, they learn the lesson quickly. It only takes one unprompted swear word from their child before they realize, possibly regretfully, that someone has been hanging on their every word. If a mother tells her son that hitting is bad yet spanks him when he is naughty, he is receiving contradictory messages and is going to behave the same way. Children rely on what they see and experience instead of what they hear, no matter how much we may wish otherwise.

Being an older brother or sister means that there are a smaller set of eyes on you at all times. If they see you disregarding your homework as stupid, they will start to imitate that behavior and perhaps miss out on more fundamental skills that you have already mastered. And if you’re reading this blog, we are going to assume that this is not your intention. We’re not saying you are not entitled to these opinions, of course you are! Your homework may very well be stupid. It happens sometimes! However, when you say these things within earshot of someone who admires you at an impressionable age, they will mimic what they see. No one expects you to jump for joy at every assignment or constantly say how great you think homework is and how it builds character. But you should keep critical opinions that you do not want your younger brother or sister to copy to yourself. Feel free to vent those feelings to a parent or a peer who can listen and provide guidance if necessary.

On the other hand, if you remind your sister that it is her job to give the family dog clean water every morning and your job to walk the dog, be sure that she sees you doing your part. She will be much more likely to remember her own tasks when she sees you taking your obligation seriously. It sounds like such a simple thing but setting an example goes a long way. If you are doing or saying something that you wouldn’t like your younger sister or brother to copy—with the exception of age restricted activities like driving or having different bed times/curfews—decide if it is something you yourself should be doing or saying, and if so, wait until they aren’t around.

When you lead by example in actions and words, you will be the perfect example of someone worth living up to. And that’s pretty great!

Dividing up Responsibilities

Having a large family is a gift for parents. They get to raise multiple personalities that grow up to be happy and functioning adults due to their mentoring and nurturing. Not that it isn’t okay to elect to have just one. It is that there are many special advantages that come with having additional children. Each one enriches the lives of the others and offers a perspective on life like no other. Parents talk all the time about how different their kids are and it is with pride that they notice their different talents and attributes. Each day can be a surprise. Their job is to get all these personalities to meld well together and to teach sharing and respect for one’s private space and special interests. What it comes down to is how siblings interrelate whether there are all girls, all boys, or some of each. Depending upon the mix, the dynamics of the family will change and grow. It is a joy to see siblings bond and, in effect, becomes friends for life. You are building the foundation for future relationships that go on through adulthood. This is not always the case. As children, the bonding takes different forms. Some siblings have common interests and some do not so the parents have to foster activities that include everyone. Even young ones need not be forgotten when planning communal events.

It is what happens day to day that matters and this applies first and foremost to chores. You must divide up responsibilities and make sure that the person assigned can manage the task. You wouldn’t want to see failure which affects self-esteem. For example, if a child is asked to wash the car, an older sibling can help by using the car vacuum to clean the interior which might be a little cumbersome for the young one. Sharing chores develops caring for others and a sense of helping out when needed. It builds pride to be able to contribute your fair share. There are small tasks that don’t need much assistance, but many times a little friendly help makes things go smoothly. Thus children do not shirk their duties knowing they can be managed. They want to please their parents and execute chores with ease.

Children have to feel that the division of labor in the family is fair and justified. No one should have to do the dishes all the time or have to clean the bathtub that others have used. There are certain tasks like taking out the trash, washing the dog, raking leaves, or scrubbing the garage floor that are distasteful to some but not others. You want to match the chore with the right child; but the way around the problem is to have more than one tackle it. It gets done faster and no one feels they are singled out for things they despise. Kids respect parents who divide up responsibilities and consider their preferences. It makes for a more content, happy family environment.

Why Should You Mentor?

It sounds like a lot of work, doesn’t it? You’re a busy kid. You have your own life. It’s already filled with school, friends, and extracurricular activities. You’re already forced to spend enough time with your younger sibling. Now we’re telling you that you have to teach your younger brother or sister stuff too?!? We know what you’re thinking: aren’t teachers, parents, and coaches supposed to be doing those things?

Well, yes. You’re 100% correct. They are, and they do. If you think that your little brother or sister don’t need you, however, you’d be wrong.

Because you have something all those other people don’t have. The ability to relate. We don’t want to say that your teachers and parents are old…but, they’re older than you, right? Maybe some of this stuff was a long time ago for them, and you remember what it was like because it isn’t ancient history to you. It could be that things have changed since they were that age, or maybe you just know a better way. Parents are parents. They are going to come at things from a parent’s perspective, and that may not work in every scenario. Teachers are teachers, and they’re going to work from the instructor angle, which may put some kids off. But you—you get to be both an older brother or sister, AND a friend. But not just any friend; your brother or sister already has some of those. You get to be the cool friend, just because you’re older. You’re the cool friend who knows stuff and can do really awesome big kid things. Things your younger brother or sister probably desperately wants to do as well. Who better to show them how than you?

Being a mentor doesn’t just help your little brother or sister. It helps you, too. First of all, it will help you bond with your younger siblings. It may seem like you have absolutely nothing in common with him or her, especially if there is a big age difference. However, if you actually make it a point to spend time with them, you may find out you were wrong. You may even make a new friend! Another benefit to helping someone else is that it will make you feel good. It elevates your mood and helps your self-esteem, too. Believe it or not, mentoring your younger siblings may actually improve your relationship with your parents, too. When Mom or Dad see you taking the time out to mentor a younger sibling, they’ll really appreciate it. We’re not saying that mentoring is enough to get you out of trouble or anything, but it is worth a try, right?

So give it a try and see what happens. We hope you’ll find it to be rewarding and fun, and willing to do it again!

Going from One to Two

Going from One to Two

Typically, life gets easier when there are more of something. When two people living together are sharing a car and then purchase another one, everyone can get where they need to without inconveniencing the other. If children are fighting over a toy, getting one for each of them can put an end to the fighting. However, going from one child to two can be a major adjustment. We’ve come up with a few suggestions to help with the transition.

Our first tip is a simple one: each child is an individual, so remember to treat them that way. If one of them is always hearing, Your brother/sister is so good at [insert activity here], why aren’t you? all you are sowing is resentment and feelings of inadequacy. And if you are reading this blog, that obviously is not your goal. So accept the fact that no two people approach a situation the same way, nor do they have the same capabilities or preferences, and treat your kids accordingly.

Another thing we’d like to point out is a mistake that many parents make. Don’t change too many things right before the baby is born, even if your child seems totally OK with it. It can, and likely will, backfire on you. Sure you need the crib for the baby, but how would you feel if someone was taking away the only bed you’ve ever known because of some stupid baby? You can unintentionally be planting the seeds of hostility. Make any transitions early. Treat these situations like an accomplishment on your child’s behalf and not as if they have anything to do with the baby. For example, move your older child out of the crib because they have grown so much that they need more room to be comfortable, not because the baby needs the crib. Make necessary changes enough in advance or after the baby is born so that they don’t seem like the baby’s fault.

Our next point is harder, but even more crucial to help children adjust to a baby in the house. You have to find time to reassure your child that they are still important to you. When they ask you for something and you can’t do it because you are changing a diaper or feeding the baby, don’t say that the baby needs you more at that moment. Tell your child exactly when you will be able to do as they request, especially if it something that you used to do quickly before. No child wants to hear, I can’t do this for you right now because I am busy with the baby. Instead, you can say simple things like, I would be happy to put this movie on for you as soon as I am done changing your sister. This way, your child can be reassured that you will attend to their needs as well. It is important to actually follow through with what you promise in order for this strategy to be effective. Make an effort to spend some one on one time with your older child, whether it be while another adult watches the baby or during naptime. They will be comforted to have your undivided attention, even if it is only for a little bit at a time.

The last point we want to make is to have your older child participate in the baby’s life. This suggestion might be hard to follow through on depending on your older child’s age, but it will definitely be worth it. You are providing the child with an opportunity to be included in this huge family change. Maybe they can help make a bottle or hold the baby under close supervision. They can be the official diaper-getter. Maybe they can help pick out the paint color for the nursery, or select the outfit baby will wear on the trip home from the hospital. If they have the ability, they can read a story or sing their favorite song to the baby. The possibilities are endless. You know your child best, so think of something age and skill appropriate that he or she would be proud to do. Show them how the baby looks up to them and depends on them for something, and you set the stage for a lifetime of mentoring and love.

This is not, by any means, a complete list. But hopefully you will find these suggestions helpful and a good starting point for you and your children.

Mentoring at Any Age

There aren’t any age restrictions on mentoring. No, really, we’re totally serious! If you have a particular skill or have expertise in an area and want to share it, you can be a mentor to someone else! It does not have to be a life changing skill or earth shattering information. It can be anything: how to write their name, set the table, ride a bike, or even how to unlock Mom’s iPad. Parents, you might be pleasantly surprised at what young children can teach each other. And big kids, know this: mentoring younger siblings, even when you yourself are young, comes with the excellent benefit of strengthening sibling bonds. You could be a big hero to your younger brother or sister. Imagine how that will feel, and how proud of you everyone will be!

There are some skills that may more obviously require a mentor simply because they are something that most people struggle with. Say a younger brother is in first grade and is just starting to learn part-part-whole maps. Maybe his parents have no idea what that is because they were already done with school before the schools started teaching Common Core. But the older brother knows. He learned it that way two years ago and remembers how. He can sit with his younger brother and explain it to him (and maybe Mom and Dad, just for good measure). Does it matter that he’s only eight? Of course not. He is the expert in the house! What about the six-year-old who was so excited when she learned to read her first book all by herself that she taught her four-year-old sister how to read the book too? Now they both can read together! Still think you’re too young to mentor? We didn’t think so.

There’s plenty of skills that your younger brother or sister can’t do, and other information that they don’t yet know. You can teach it to them! Think about it. What would you have wanted someone to help you with? Reach out to your sibling and be the person you wish you’d had. Do you remember something that was incredibly frustrating or hard for you but you finally mastered? It could be anything. Sight reading some hard words. Your multiplication tables. Tying your shoes. Throwing a perfect spiral. Figuring out that super hard level in Angry Birds. Whatever it is, you may find your younger brother or sister struggling through it as well. Maybe the technique you used to master it could be handed down to your younger sibling. All you have to do is spend some time and show them. We promise they’ll be incredibly grateful!

Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you are too young to make a difference. Observe your younger brother or sister and see if there is something they are struggling with, and think about whether or not you can offer some pointers. If you can, great! If not, keep looking. You’d be surprised at how, if you are paying attention, an opportunity will present itself!