Friday, 22 August 2014

Should older siblings help out?

I recently read an interesting post by Jayne Crammond about her very valid concerns that she didn't want to make her daughter feel somehow responsible for her new sibling. Superficially I couldn't agree more - whilst many children are indeed Carers for siblings or older family members it is far from ideal, robs many of their childhood and eradicates that fundamental freedom from responsibility which is essential to experiencing childhood to the full.

But I would argue that responsibility is two-fold. Whilst yes, the parent is at all times responsible for his or her child, there is no reason why an older sibling should not help. Their level of responsibility is no less valid and can bring huge benefits. The older sibling gains a feeling of importance, a boost to their sense of self worth and a valuable enforcement of the links which bind them to their family.

In a society where the focus is too much on the self, too much on individual rights and needs it is essential that children are taught they have a role within the wider world, and that role exists on several levels. The early stages in social connectivity start at home, within the family. Helping Mummy carry out simple chores can be fun, helping the child feel involved and valued. My toddlers helped fetch simple items, put their bowl in the dishwasher, pick up their toys etc. This has also had the added benefit of teaching basic life skills, and an awareness of all that is involved in day to day living. At no time did I make any of them feel the outcome of such tasks had a bigger purpose, of that this simple type of responsible helping had any connection to Responsibility for the outcome. (capital "R")

As children grow up they need to learn - want to learn - that they can influence their surroundings. Not by asking for new toys, TV programmes and sweets, but by being actively involved within their family and later, in the wider world. This is enforced at school - even in Reception children are given simple tasks and praised for their efforts. The child who feels they have no means to increase their self esteem by participating in helping others seeks to boost it in other ways, valuing objects and gain instead of interaction with others.

And it works both ways- the grandparent who gives of their time, involves their grandchild and values their presence will gain far, far more from that relationship than the one who seeks to maintain a strong relationship by focussing on the child's needs. Teaching children - however young - that we all have needs is vital. None of us exist in isolation and most human beings are happier interacting with others. It saddens me that too many children are put on pedestals, showered with gifts and wanting for nothing. They exist on the edge of their families, or above them, not an integral part of a solid unit.

It is really only recently that the very idea that siblings might have a choice in helping has existed. Historically older siblings have always helped out and derived a huge amount of pleasure, satisfaction and pride in doing so. Maybe the fear of siblings feeling weighed down by too much responsibility has pushed us in the opposite direction in a knee jerk response. But responsibility is not a dirty word! What matters is that it is always preceded by the word "appropriate".  There is a reason there is no minimum age for children to babysit. A parent is always Responsible, but children can still learn responsibility.

If you partition a family into several individuals with unique needs rather than a group they easily lose interest, concern and sometimes even respect for other siblings/family members. Helping out is the glue which holds a family unit together, I think any kind of family support should be instinctive, encouraged and expected. There is far too much consideration of individual rights these days.

For us however with at least one member on the Autism Spectrum this is profoundly difficulty. Autism has sometimes been termed "Selfism", in that Autistic individuals find empathising with others acutely difficult. But high functioning individuals can and do learn to be a cog in a bigger machine, it just takes time and effort. We struggle hugely with this, and all too often fragment into a group of individuals rather than a family unit. But it is something we focus on whenever possible.

And that's where that word "appropriate" comes in. No one shirks responsibility, and helping out improves family connectivity and overall happiness.

 photo letkidsbekidslogobadge_zps424b7d61.jpg


  1. Well said. We are finding that writing down (visually) what jobs there are for people to pick from has helped focus all the children into knowing how they can play their part without being dictated to.

  2. I totally depend on my eldest (ahem, 3) to help out with the baby. Just keeping an eye on her while I nip to the toilet, making her laugh when she's upset. They sound small but they make a huge difference to my ability to get anything done and they have a great relationship so I figure it's not too bad?

  3. I think it's sweet when older siblings help out but I agree about not putting too much responsibility on them :)
    Great post!
    Amy @

  4. Interesting. I haven't had my second child yet but as I'm starting to consider conceiving again I've definitely thought about how I would involve my son. I completely agree with you that should be a sense of involvement in helping out which in my mind can only help strengthen the bond between siblings #PoCoLo

  5. I think its quite important to make children understand what "responsibility" is. My two really enjoy being helpful and being given little jobs to do - sometimes anyway! But like you say it has to be appropriate. Great post.x #PoCoLo

  6. It is a balance problem... no, they shouldn't become a carers but they sure should help out with age appropriate tasks. If you have a younger sibling you should not be 100% free of a responsibility.

  7. My little boy loves helping me out with his little sister (he is almost 5 and she is 10 weeks) he loves he so much and will plead to help give her a bottle or lay on the floor and play with her. I think its really cute and helps them bond together as brother and sister. Of course I am always there watching over them x

  8. I think for me it is about knowing what is best for your family and your children, Maxi does take some responsibility for Mini, but as there is only 14 months difference not much

  9. I think it is all about finding the right balance. Allowing them the benefits of helping without any pressure x

  10. My kids all help out with the little ones and I think it does them good. Not only are they learning life skills but they are bonding with their siblings too

  11. I read the same article - like you I think it should be a balance. I was the oldest child and loved helping out with my younger brothers. My eldest will only be three an youngest literally just turned two when baby comes along in December. Without me saying anything, they bot keep telling me they are going to feed him and change his nappy, so sometimes I think it is a natural thing. Harrison keeps whipping off Alex's nappy because he loves to help change it! It is all about balance, asking them to help in a fun way but not loading the pressure on them make them feel responsible.

  12. My 8 old doesn't like helping out with her sister..think she is beginning to resent her younger sister but then she was an only child for over 6 years.

  13. I remember taking care of my sister the moment she arrived home. We have a hammock for her and I help my mother rock that hammock. The only thing that I can do then but I do it not because I am asked to but I feel like really just doing it. I am a big sister after all. Looking back now I think its really instinct and I am so glad that though my mother let me help in taking care of my sister she is of course the main carer of her. I also grew up with so many relatives pitching in in caring for my sister and all the other kids. It takes a village to raise a kid and no one should be force to care for someone. As always your post thought provoking =) #pocolo

  14. I was responsible for looking after my brothers and still do as one of them is 14 and often comes to stay with us. I have always said that mine would never be responsible but I know that if they are at somewhere and I am not in sight then they will look out for each other.

  15. My son was too young to help out with my twins as babies, but I don't think there is any harm in children helping out with siblings, it is often good for them, you are a family unit together, as long as the parents are still responsible.
    Thanks for linking #LetKidsBeKids

  16. I agree with this too, but it isn't just siblings who shoulder that responsibility. My youngest daughter who has just finished her first year of Middle School, she is 10, is a fairly popular girl and, touch wood, she hasn't been bullied (which is a whole other post). But one of the children who were in her class was being bullied quite severely at the school and after the school not seeming to do anything about it she was taken out of school by her Mother. This mother then tried to get her into a different local school but unfortunately that school didn't have the space for her so she had to go back to the original school.
    Anyway, after that little background story, the point being, I was asked by the Mother if it would be possible if my daughter could keep an 'eye' on things as this girl was moved to her class. I said that that would be OK but afterwards it got me thinking that this is quite a lot of responsibility for someone young. This bullying wasn't just a simple playground banter, these were quite severe taunts and mistreatment. Yes my daughter could help and make her feel a bit better in having someone 'safe' that she can turn to, but also I feel, a little selfishly I guess, that my daughter could then end up in the middle of the bullying and become a victim herself.
    It has got to the point now that my daughter and one other girl, who was asked by the same Mum to keep an 'eye' things have had their friendship broken, they were very close, as the 'new' girl has come between them, maybe taking 'her' responsibilities a bit too far. My daughter is quite quiet and goes along with things so tends not to stick up for herself and doesn't like to upset people.

    I hope I have taken over your post.


    1. Thank you for adding this- you make a very interesting point. That to me sounds like Responsibility with a capital "R".


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