Sibling Rivalry: 4 Tips for Raising Kids with Big Age Differences

When my youngest daughter was born, her siblings were ages seven, nine and ten, and the age difference presented no problem. As time went on, however, the age difference seemed to increase, and sibling rivalry became obvious. When the children argued, rather than the younger becoming more sophisticated in her reasoning, the older ones actually became less mature. I found myself wondering where my 16-year-old had gone -- she acted the same age as the baby! And as the older siblings got older, my little one became more precocious than I liked. At five she wanted to wear makeup like "Sissy." She wanted to wear crop tops like "Sissy." She wanted to watch the same TV shows the big kids watched. My biggest concern became: how can I shelter my little one from the influences of her older siblings?

It is certainly frustrating when younger siblings learn "bad habits" directly from older teens -- especially if they are your older teens. Here are four of the best ways to manage children with big age differences:

1. Be careful not to become angry or blame your older children.
This will only cause them to resent the younger one for "causing trouble." In most cases the younger child is experimenting with this newly learned behavior to see how Mom or Dad will react to it and to see how it feels to be more grown up. The best way to handle problems in this area is to set appropriate but not punitive limits in the way you would with other frustrating behaviors. Watch that you don't overact; instead, suggest some positive ways that your younger child can emulate her older brother or sister. This is also an opportunity to invite a discussion about how the child feels about having a much older sibling.

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