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Teaching Older Siblings to Care for Younger Children

Newborn baby,book for helping kids help others

Teaching older siblings to care for younger children is especially important to my family. My four children’s ages span a range of about eight years. My oldest is closing in on 13, and my youngest is about to turn five in just a few days. My first three children (often referred to in our home as the “big kids”) are very close in age at 12, 10, and almost 9 years old. With two girls and two boys, our family is about as balanced as you can get, and we are very blessed.

As the children have turned older, I have noticed that it has become more difficult to group them all together (hence the “big kids” group). My youngest Luke has very different needs than my preteens. This fact causes him to feel isolated at times, left out while the big kids get to do something that is inevitably “way cooler” or “way more fun” than whatever he is doing. Not only has he begun to feel left out of certain activities, but the older children were becoming less patient with him as he needs help with daily tasks. I often heard grumbling and complaining as their little brother struggled to complete a new skill he is learning to master, and holds up our progress as we make our way to various activities.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. — Philippians 2:3-4

As the big kids have gotten older, their impatience with their younger brother has grown. I remember vividly the days of smoldering chaos when my husband and I mastered the art of the assembly line at mealtimes and bedtimes, brushing teeth, combing hair, feeding, and dressing three little ones under the age of four. So recently, I sat my older children down and reminded them of those days and how much help they needed when they were their little brother’s age. We looked at family pictures of years past, as I discussed how often I helped them clean up their messes after a meal, tie their shoes, or make their beds.

Soon the light bulbs went off in their minds, and they saw where I was headed with the discussion. We talked about Christ’s example of unselfishness and his reminder to help the needy. Oftentimes when we think of helping the needy, we think of those in our community who are hurting or in need of food or shelter. But I wanted my big kids to realize that “the needy” also included those in their own home — their own family. Their little brother was in need of their help, encouragement, and guidance.

In our home, we work together to help each other grow together in His love on a daily basis. My older children needed to be reminded that it is more blessed to give than to receive, and that this truth applies to time, love, and energy as well as material things.

In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ — Acts 20:35 (NIV)

Since our discussion, things have run much smoother around here. I hear much less complaining about Luke’s neediness, and they’ve come up with a sort of buddy system that allows them each to pitch in and help Luke out at some point during the day. John David shares a room with Luke, so he pitches in and helps Luke make his bed and pick up his toys. With Kylie, helping Luke comes a bit more easily, as they’ve always had a closer bond. She can often be found reading him a book, helping him pick out his clothes for the day, or cleaning up his messes. Caitlyn is Luke’s official teeth brushing buddy, and she assists with his shoes and other things as well. There are blessings all around as Luke feels more supported by his siblings and the older children practice their nurturing and unselfishness.

Overall, our family runs much more smoothly as a unit. More importantly, my children are working daily to be more like Christ. What can be better than that?

Your Turn

If you are a parent of multiples, do you have a system in place in your home that encourages your older children to help care for the younger ones? Please leave your comments below. We’d love to hear from you!