I talk about my children with many people. I don’t know how it is for parents with more than two children, but conversations with friends, family and colleagues about our two kids tend to follow the same structure. First, ask about the youngest child. “How’s Eli doing?” Second, ask about the second child, with a variation of the same question “How is she with her younger brother?”
We are blessed that Eva has been really good with her younger brother, but what does that mean? What makes a one year old a good big sister?
The first thing that comes to mind is that she doesn’t physically harm him. That’s all and well, but it’s an impossible standard for a one year old to meet. Heck, I’m (calculating…) 34 years old and I can’t even claim that standard. I’ve bumped his arm on the door frame and accidentally grabbed his injection site on his leg, so even dear old dad isn’t perfect.
Eva is a one year old going through vast amounts of changes. Physically, each day she grows and becomes more sturdy on her feet. She feels like she can lift anything (and has tried to lift Eli on occasion). Some days she grows stronger in her abilities, but other days she grows a little taller and a little bit more off balance. Accidental falls happen.
The more pressing issue is that she is getting smarter and developing emotions. If she wants something that she can’t have (and usually this is when she is tired) she gets angry. Now, she is working on words and knows some sign language (“more” and “food” and “more food” are her favorites), so when dinner comes she can communicate with us. The only way she knows how to communicate “I’m angry” is through crying, stomping in place and swinging her arms. We have to keep Eli away from her when she melts down.
These are all normal developmental aspects of growing up, but sometimes Eli can have collateral damage from all that development. The other big concern with a new sibling is jealousy. When Eli was born, I don’t know if she knew how to feel jealousy, but now she does. If Eli’s on a lap that she wants, sometimes she pushes him. Those moments have been few and far between though.
Being a good big sister involves avoiding harm and bad feelings. So what about the other side of the coin? What about bring him love and caring for his needs?
Eva loves to help her brother. When his moans and slight whimpers start trickling through the monitor downstairs, Eva will say “Uh oh!” and point upstairs as if to say “Mom, Eli is waking up. You better get him!” When mom brings him down for his bottle, Eva will carry the bottle to the living room and point to the chair. “This is where you feed him!” She’ll hand mom the bottle, grab his burp rag, and put the bottle cap on the end table.
Eva helping with the saline nose drops
At night, if they should so happen to go to bed at the same time, Eva will not sleep if the last time she saw Eli he was crying. Once Eli is calm and/or sleeping, we have to bring her back into the room to show her that he is doing fine.
When we take car rides, we have to make sure that the cover of Eli’s car seat is pulled back. She has to be able to see him, otherwise she will fuss the entire way until she figures out how to fix it herself.
These are all good, but what’s great is when she does something with him because she loves him. Whenever Eva really enjoys something, whether it’s Elmo or a good meal, she has to share this joy with someone she loves. She never gets so engulfed in her happiness that she forgets to look at her loved ones and smile ear to ear, as if to say “This is awesome. Are you seeing this?! I want you to be happy too!”
Eva is a dancer. Whenever the beat catches her, she has to sway and bounce. She’ll take daddy’s hands and we’ll swing back and forth. After she tires out dad, she goes right to Eli
Eva at age one is doing the things that I think a big sister should be doing. She’s not hurting, but helping him. She’s barely jealous and loves her brother. And occasionally gets in the way of his picture time.