How to be a good big sibling

Photo by Yuko Hirao / Stocksy

“My mommy has a baby in her tummy, and I’m going to be a big sister!” proclaims little Lily, followed by a big smooch planted on Mama’s belly. Yup, it’s downright heart-melting, but it’s just one of many emotional responses your child may have as the soon-to-be older sibling prepares for the baby on the way.

Babies bring big changes to all our lives: It’s natural for an older child to feel a range of emotions, from pride and excitement to jealousy and sadness, as they get to know their new sibling.

Don’t worry, we’ve got some tried-and-true actions that can help the new big brother or sister in your house understand what to expect and give them time to adjust to a new sibling relationship. With a little planning and some extra care, we hope that your growing family will soon be happily humming along together (most of the time, anyway).

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1. Give Older Siblings a Starring Role in Your Growing Family

Older children are part of the story of your growing family. When you talk about your new baby, make sure big brother and big sister are part of the story you share with others. Tell your child about the pregnancy when you tell your friends—you want to make sure they hear about it from you!

2. Listen to the Baby’s Heartbeat—Together

If your older child shows interest—and you’re able—bring them along to a few prenatal visits. This can be a great first step in introducing your toddler to the second baby. Hearing baby’s heartbeat or seeing them on an ultrasound can make the new baby’s arrival feel more real—and fun!

3. Prepare Your Toddler for a New Baby by Making Them Feel Special

Make the big sibling feel as special as they really are. Talk often (and proudly) with them about their upcoming role as big brother or sister. Refer to the new baby as “your little sister (or brother)” to help them feel included.

4. Read All about Babies Together

There are lots of great books about pregnancy, babies, and siblings that help your child understand what’s coming. We recommend:

5. Share Your Older Sibling’s Baby Stories with Them

Tell them stories about what they were like as a baby—looking at pictures and videos from that period can also help them understand that the new baby will need some time before they become a real playmate. Which leads us to our next point.

6. Be Honest about What Babies Can (and Can’t) Do

Depending on the age of the older child, they may be surprised to find out that babies aren’t instant, awesome playmates. This is especially true for toddlers, who are at just beginning to learn everything about the world and will need a little coaching about baby do’s and don’ts.

7. Help Your Toddler Practice Being Gentle

Give your child a toy baby that they can practice caring for. Show them how to hold the doll in a safe and gentle manner. Visit friends with younger babies, if possible.

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8. Include Your Older Child in the Baby Preparations

This can be anything from making a picture to frame for the baby’s wall, to helping stack diapers, to picking the baby’s coming-home outfit. As your due date draws near, make sure that your older child knows what they will be doing during, and right after, the birth. Is Grandma coming to stay? Will they spend the night with the neighbors? Explaining the plan will keep them from feeling frightened or confused when the time comes.

9. Ask about Their Feelings—and Take Them Seriously

There is no right way or wrong way to feel about a new baby’s arrival: Some might feel excited and curious about a new little brother, others might feel upset, and some may lavish endless amounts of loving attention on the new baby.

Your child’s emotional response also might change after the baby arrives—in fact, their feelings can change by the day or even the hour. Validate their feelings and help them to describe them in words: angry, excited, curious, lonely, or happy.

How to be a good big siblingPhoto by Lea Csontos / Stocksy

10. Give Older Siblings Some Extra TLC

Sometimes an older child needs a little extra nurturing—heck, sometimes we all do—so go ahead and give it. Every child expresses their needs uniquely: Baby talk, asking for a bottle, or other “baby-ish” behaviors might be ways for your child to ask for some of the tender attention that you’re giving to their little sis. Reassure your older child as often as they need it: Give them a squeeze, tell them that you love them very much, that they are just as special, and that you will still do fun things together.

11. Include Older Siblings in the Celebrations

When family and friends come to visit the new baby, kindly ask them to give some attention to the older child as well. Have some small gifts on hand for big brother or big sister in case guests only bring presents for the baby.

How to be a good big siblingPhoto by Marta Locklear / Stocksy

12. Let Big Brother/Sister Help Care for Your New Baby

Invite the big brother or sister to help you care for the baby with a few “big-kid jobs,” like getting baby’s socks from upstairs or a diaper from the shelf—celebrating the many things older siblings can do now will help them feel more secure about their important place in the family. Tell them how proud you are!

13. Stick to Routines (as Much as Possible)

Maintaining bedtime rituals, school schedules, and breakfast bonding time will help big siblings feel confident and grounded as so much is changing in their lives.

14. Set Aside Special Time for Older Siblings

Make sure each parent gets at least 15 minutes of one-on-one time with the older child each day. We know this can feel really challenging during the first few months with a new baby, but time together doesn’t need to be fancy to be special: Reading books in a basement fort might be exactly what big brother needs. When you can, try scheduling a few special one-on-one dates—like going to a play gym or out for a big-kid treat—that you and your older child can look forward to together!

  1. A Brother’s Influence on a Younger Sister
  2. Communication Between Older & Younger Siblings
  3. How to Be a Good Big Sister
  4. Aggressive Behavior in Adults
  5. Teenagers and the Importance of Friends

How to be a good big sibling

Positive sibling relationships can influence every stage of life: from childhood, through adolescence and into adulthood. Older siblings often become role models for their younger brothers and sisters, and they help protect and care for younger children when parents are at work or otherwise occupied. Because siblings tend to spend a lot of time together, it is important to understand the roles of older children and how they can affect younger siblings.


Through play and other interaction with their older brothers and/or sisters, young children learn skills such as conflict resolution and empathy, which can aid them in future social situations. However, older siblings remain prominent influences well beyond early childhood. They teach younger children how to act around friends and how to handle other peer-related situations. Older siblings may introduce their younger siblings to possible friends and provide outlets for continued socialization.

Academic Success

How to be a good big sibling

In many cases, older siblings play a role in the academic achievement of their younger brothers and sisters. Older siblings may motivate younger ones to succeed or provide help with homework or other scholastic endeavors. Older siblings play an especially large role in this regard in households where the parents work and the younger child is often in the care of the older siblings. Younger siblings are likely to model the study habits of their older siblings in any family.

Deterrent for Bad Behavior

Delinquency, risk taking and other problem behavior in children can be deterred by older siblings who are positive role models. If a younger child looks up to his older sibling who does not engage in delinquency, risk taking or drug use, he will be less likely to adopt these behaviors. For a younger sibling who does experiment with these behaviors, an older brother or sister can give helpful advice as to how and why to avoid future mistakes.

Negative Influence

Older siblings can also be negative influences on a younger child’s behavior and attitude. A study conducted by Jessica Craine and colleagues that was published in the 2009 edition of the Merrill Palmer Quarterly found that girls who looked up to their older, delinquent brothers were more prone to delinquent behaviors. Bullying is another way that a younger child can be negatively affected by an older sibling. Abuse or bullying by a sibling could result in social and/or emotional problems for the younger child.

How to be a good big sibling

When your kid learns they’re going to be a big brother or sister, there are a lot of stages of grief they go through before acceptance. Maybe they’re bargaining with your wife to leave the baby at the hospital and in return they’ll eat raw broccoli. Maybe they’re in denial they won’t have their own room for much longer. But instead of letting them wrestle with the idea of sharing their parents, start reading them books to get them more comfortable with the idea. Besides, real rivalry won’t start until years after you’ve boxed up the picture books.

How to be a good big sibling

The book follows aspiring artist, and middle child, Ramon. Like many inbetweeners, his dreams are mocked by his older brother (hey, somebody needed to tell him those drawings lacked realism). Ramon is crushed and destroys his works — but not in a cool, Jackson Pollock way. Just when he’s ready to give up, his sweet younger sister swoops in with a few encouraging words. Those paintings don’t have to perfect, they can be ish. As in tree-ish. Or vase-ish. If only your boss would accept on time-ish.
Ages: 5+
Ish by Peter H. Reynolds ($10)

How to be a good big sibling

Little Frog’s Tadpole Trouble
There’s no guidebook for no longer being the center of attention. But, there is a book about a little frog who is about to be the big brother to a tadpole (and, herpetologically speaking, probably thousands of them). No wonder this frog is freaking out. The book outlines just a few of the new responsibilities, toy sharing, and other courtesies that your kid is going to have to be on board with.
Ages: 2 – 4
Little Frog’s Tadpole Trouble by Tatyana Feeny ($15)

How to be a good big sibling

Benny and Beautiful Baby Delilah
This book is another take on the mixed emotions that come with new siblings. Benny can’t stand his new baby sister and all her annoying baby habits (like existing). One night she’s crying so much that Benny decides he’s got to do something drastic to remedy the situation. And no, it’s not evil, it’s heartwarming. You’re probably thinking of The Omen.
Ages 4+
Benny and Beautiful Baby Delilah by Jean Van Leeuwen ($5)

How to be a good big sibling

Olive Marshmallow
Archie likes robots, football, and playing cowboy. Which means he’s not down with that baby growing inside his mommy (unless it turns out to be an android quarterback). He’s also not too thrilled with all the pink crap in mom’s old office, which he takes as a direct challenge to the early heteronormative ideas he’s formed in his comically-oversized head. Not to worry though, little sister Olive looks like a marshmallow and now there’s twice as many toys.
Ages 3 – 6
Olive Marshmallow by Katie Saunders ($15)

How to be a good big sibling

Wolfie The Bunny
Wolfie The Bunny isn’t just about a family of rabbits takes a baby wolf left on their doorstep and raises them as their own. It also teaches your kid what happens when you have a little faith in people (or predators). Also, who are you to say this didn’t happen at least once in nature? Of course things get heated when the bunny family’s daughter, Dot, thinks they’ve all gone mad and are doomed to get eaten. But still, Dot thinks that the wolves are coming to take away their bunny guns and bunny jobs.
Ages: 3 – 6
Wolfie The Bunny by Ame Dyckman ($12)

How to be a good big sibling

What Brothers Do Best
Author Laura Numeroff, the mastermind behind If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, shows the sweeter side of brotherhood. In this book, anthropomorphic animal bros help each other climb trees, swing, and scarf party subs. This all probably happens occasionally with brothers, but it’s pretty clear that Numeroff only had sisters (the book is dedicated to them … ironically?). Not one noogie, wedgie, or traumatic time they said “forgot” to pick you up at the movies.
Ages 2 – 4
What Brothers Do Best by Laura Numeroff ($6)

How to be a good big sibling

Hello In There
This interactive flip book will give your kid their first, somewhat medically accurate look at the stages of a developing fetus. The book is a rare one among sibling-to-be books, because this little girl is totally psyched to tell her baby sis all about cupcakes, swimming, strawberries, and the other awesomeness things adults take for granted in life.
Ages: 4+
Hello in There by Jo Witek ($12)

How to be a good big sibling

Little Miss, Big Sis
Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s follow up to Plant a Kiss documents the charmed life of Little Miss — who defines precocious. The illustrations are clear and the words are rhyming as Little Miss counts down the days until she becomes a big sis. Apparently someone already knows they’ve got some skin in the game with this new addition and wants to prove she’s an asset to the baby-raising team. Then she gets the Glengarry leads.
Ages 4 – 8
Little Miss, Big Sis by Amy Krouse Rosenthal ($14)

How to be a good big sibling

Babies Don’t Eat Pizza
No burying the lede — this book is not about pizza. If you haven’t skipped this blurb, you should just know that it gives soon-to-be brothers and sisters the gist of what life with a baby from birth through toddlerhood is like. It even touches on adoption; premature and special needs babies; breast and bottle feeding; twins; helping and playing with babies; older children’s feelings, and includes a bonus “parents’ tips” page. And it was a Mom’s Choice Award Gold Recipient. Jeez book, you want to just raise this baby instead?
Ages: 4 – 8
Babies Don’t Eat Pizza by Dianne Danzig ($11)

How to be a good big sibling

Ninja Baby
Sibling rivalry makes for great kung-fu theater in this tale about Nina, a tough-as-nails toddler who uses her ninja skills to get her way (and, like all toddlers, seems to vanish whenever they hear the bath running). She’s all about that ninja life until mom and dad bring home the real Kung Fu Master — her baby brother. Now who’s the master? (Spoiler: It’s Sho’nuff.)
Ages: 3 – 6
Ninja Baby by David Zeltser and Diane Goode ($17)

  1. A Brother’s Influence on a Younger Sister
  2. List of Examples of Older Siblings Being Positive Role Models
  3. Importance of Father & Son Relationships
  4. The Effects of an Absent Mother Figure
  5. The Roles of Older Siblings

How to be a good big sibling

A brother is more than just another family member — siblings have the opportunity to influence the lives of one another, to act as positive role models and to become a support system for one another in times of need. The influence from a good brother affects a younger sibling’s social and emotional development and also provides a guideline for how to act at school and with friends, according to the research from applied family studies professor Laurie Kramer at the University of Illinois.

Models Good Behavior

One of the most positive ways a brother can affect his siblings is by being a positive role model. Setting a good example for his brothers and sisters to follow can help younger sibs better navigate social decisions, according to Kramer in the article “Siblings Play Formative, Influential Role as ‘Agents of Socialization'” on the University of Illinois website. The effects from a good role model may include improved performances in school, work and in making good family or relationship choices. An older brother acting as a positive role model can influence his sibling’s academic outcomes, as studies have shown. Older siblings who reported high levels of academic engagement positively influenced their younger siblings’ school adjustment, according to the study “Longitudinal Links Between Older Siblings’ Academic Adjustment During Early Adolescence” in the “Journal of Educational Psychology.”

Is Closer Than a Friend

Although friends may change over time, a good brother is there for the long haul, according to counselor Raychelle Cassada Lohmann on the Psychology Today website. Family members have a unique, special bond with each other that differs from the bonds that friends have, typically also having a deeper knowledge of each other. This deeper knowledge is gained from years of living together as well as having this shared history. A brother can offer the same type of companionship that a friend can, but he isn’t as likely to move on to a new social situation, whereas a friend might. As a child grows into middle childhood and adolescence, having a positive relationship with his older brother has been shown to increase the likelihood that the younger sibling will have healthy feelings of self-worth and fewer signs of depression.

Is Honest Yet Tactful

Honesty is an essential part of any healthy relationship. This trait is particularly important among family members and siblings. A good brother should maintain an open, honest way of treating his siblings. This doesn’t mean that he should relay the brutal truth. Telling the truth without tact can hurt a sibling’s feelings and cause distress. For example, saying that your brother’s girlfriend left him because he is unattractive and dresses poorly is likely to cause conflict. On the other hand, telling your brother that he could update his wardrobe if he wants to attract women — and offering to help him — shows that you’re honest and positive, without being mean.

Has a Good Ear

Telling siblings what they should do isn’t the only way that brothers can show stellar communication skills. A good brother is an active listener, takes in what his siblings have to say and processes it before responding. Active listening involves paying attention to what the other person is saying to understand his point of view, according to the article “Families First — Keys to Successful Family Functioning: Communication” on the Virginia Cooperative Extension website.

Big Sibling’s Big Influence: Some Behaviors Run In The Family

How to be a good big sibling

Patricia East is a developmental psychologist who began her career working at an OB-GYN clinic in California. Thursday mornings at the clinic were reserved for pregnant teens, and when East arrived the waiting room would be packed with them, chair after chair of pregnant adolescents.

It was in this waiting room, East explains, that she discovered her life’s work — an accidental discovery that emerged from the small talk that staff at the clinic had with their young clients as they walked them back for checkups.

“The nurses and the doctors there would bring a teen back for her prenatal visit and they would say, ‘Hey! Aren’t you Maria’s younger sister?’ And the young woman would say, ‘Yeah, I am!’ And they would say to another patient, ‘You know, haven’t I seen you before?’ And she would say, ‘Yes, I was here for my older sister when she was pregnant.’ “

Over and over East heard variations of this conversation, until it came to the point that when she saw a younger sibling sitting next to her sister in the waiting room an involuntary thought flashed across her mind.

“It’s almost as if you’re watching the younger sister get pregnant,” she says.

And so East decided to do a study. She wanted to figure out if having an older sister who got pregnant as a teen really did affect the likelihood that the younger sibling would find herself in the same position. She identified a large number of sister pairs — all pairs came from roughly the same socioeconomic and life circumstances. And by comparing them, she found that a pregnancy in an older sister did often seem to change the trajectory of the younger sibling.

“The younger sisters are five times more likely to get pregnant as other young women who have an older sister who hasn’t been pregnant.”

In the aftermath of the bombings in Boston many of us have been thinking a lot about siblings — particularly how older siblings can shape the lives of younger siblings. But until pretty recently, the role siblings play in determining the trajectory of each other’s lives hasn’t been a particularly hot topic in psychological research. Psychologists, very understandably, have focused on the influences they see as more important — such as parents and peers and genetics.

But in the past decade that’s been changing a bit. Psychologists interested in how siblings affect one another are taking a new look at all kinds of behavior, particularly anti-social behavior.

Richard Rende, a professor of psychiatry at Brown University, is one of the people doing this work, and he says that some of the new findings really challenge the idea that parents are the most important influence on children.

Consider, for example, the research that looks at how much a parent who smokes influences his child to smoke, versus the degree to which an older sibling who smokes influences a younger sibling.

“Both can have an effect, but in a lot of studies they’ve found that the effect ‘older sibling smoking’ has is greater than the effect that ‘parental smoking’ has,” Rende says.

It’s the opposite of what many people assumed, he says. Older siblings are more influential.

Rende says you can see this influence of big brothers and sisters in all kinds of families — rich, middle class and poor. But their power is really magnified in the particular subset of families he studies: families that are psychologically and economically unstable. In those families the power of the older sibling is much greater because parents aren’t around as much, and the siblings tend to spend a lot of time together.

As part of his research, Rende gives sibling pairs electronic devices like cellphones that, every half hour, prompt both siblings to report what they’re doing. Through such reports you can actually see each one ghosting the other’s behavior, he says.

“When one sibling is smoking — in real time [we see] they’re having a cigarette, and the other sibling is very likely to report smoking at the same time.”

In fact, when one sibling is a smoker, the other is 25 percent more likely to smoke. With drinking the risk is even higher; a person is 36 percent more likely to drink if a sibling does.

Rende, by the way, believes that the reverse is also true. Good behavior in older siblings can be as contagious as bad. It just seems that — particularly when families are struggling — the fate of the kids is more tethered to their siblings than we originally thought. For good and, apparently, for bad.

Amy is a writer who blogs about relationships and lifestyle advice. Read full profile

How to be a good big sibling

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Sometimes she annoys you. Sometimes she is overprotective. But for nothing in this world would you give her away. An older sister is precious and people who have an older sister know following15 great things.

1. She is your personal life adviser

Whenever things get tough, you can always turn to your older sister for a glass of something strong and a heart-to-heart. From your first boyfriend to how to pay taxes, your older sister often seems like an infinitely wise guru who you can turn to when you don’t know what to do.

2. You’re used to being second in command during play time

When it came to playtime, your older sister was always in control of the games. She played the parent and you played the child, or she played the teacher and you played the student.

Basically she was completely in charge, but it was totally worth it, because she came up with the best games.

3. Your older sister made the decisions

Now you’re a grown adult, and you probably make all of your own choices, but it wasn’t always this way. As a child you were always the assistant to your older sister’s pranks and food experiments – and it was awesome. Leading on to…

4. Your older sister was always responsible

Even when you did join your sister in one of her zany food experiments, you didn’t have to worry about getting in too much trouble. After all, she was the older one – she should have known better than sweet, naive you. Older sisters all around the world, we thank you.

5. You know the pain of sharing a bedroom

Most people with older sisters understand the struggles of sharing a room with one. The lack of room, the mess, no privacy. But it’s all worth it for the times the two of you stayed up late giggling while your parents thought you were sleeping.

6. She knows how crazy your family is

Everyone’s family is a little crazy, but there aren’t many people with whom you can have a good moan about them. You might have the right to call your dad irrational, but none of your friends do. The only person who can really relate to the madness of your family is your older sister, so vent as much as you want.

7. She is always honest with you

If you’re wearing anything that doesn’t suit you, the first person to let you know is your older sister. Sometimes it hurts at the time, but you’re eternally grateful to have someone totally honest in your life. She has your best interests at heart – which is why she told you to never wear light-up trainers again.

8. She made school easier for you

Starting high school is a daunting experience for even the bravest people, but having an older sister really helps to soften the blow. Before you started, she gave you the low down on the teachers you would have, and where to get lunch. More importantly, you spent years hearing “Is so-and-so your older sister?”, helping you to make friends and seem (slightly) cooler.

9. She prepared your parents for you

Late nights, drinking, smoking, bad grades, bringing around your first partner – she did it all first. So if/when you had to go through the same stuff, it didn’t even faze your parents. Throwing up in the toilet after your first heavy night drinking? Pssh, it’s fine, your sister threw up in the bathtub when she did it.

10. You always have someone to borrow from

Whether you need clothes for a night out, money for rent or food so you don’t starve, your older sister will help you out in this area. She is more reliable than a friend and less judgmental than a parent, making her the perfect person to borrow from. Respect the rules, though, and return anything you borrow to avoid a (possibly painful) sibling fight.

11. Someone always has your back

Even though your sister can be honest to a slightly painful point, she always has your back. She might insult you, but if your boss/partner/best friend insults you, they will have to deal with the wrath of your sister.

12. She is someone you aspire to be

As a child, you aspired to be as cool as your older sister – and she taught you everything you knew, from making mud pies to teaching you how to style your hair. As an adult you still admire her strength, personality and kindness – you’ve just figured out your own style.

13. What’s hers is yours

Whether it was toys, clothes, make-up or a car, you always had someone else’s stuff to uses. She gave you lifts before you could drive, and lends you clothes for nights out. With an older sister, you basically have double the stuff… although she may not see it that way.

14. She toughened you up

Every time she stole the remote, confessed your crimes to your parents or fought with you over your favorite toy, she was toughening you up for being an adult. At the time you probably felt like you hated her, but she helped shape who you are as a person.

15. She is the best friend you ever had

No matter what, your sister has always had your back in times of need. No one quite compares to an older sister. You have been friends for as long as you can remember. From being eight to eighty, she will always be there for you.

While growing up in a normal family means learning to share your toys and figuring out your own identity, being part of a narcissistic family means fighting for survival.

Rather than spending their time working out what music they like, where their strengths are, and what they want to be in life, children of narcissistic parents are busy finding their “role,” according to trauma therapist Shannon Thomas.

“One of the most distinct patterns I’ve seen is that everybody has to find somewhere to be, and a job to do within the family,” she told Insider. “In healthy families, you’re just yourself — you’re your name, you’re your talents, you’re your strengths and weaknesses. You’re the person.”

People are like pieces on a chessboard to them

In a narcissistic family, however, you fit within whatever pattern the narcissistic parent is trying to create within the family.

Thomas likened it to pieces on a chessboard, and how every individual one has a purpose and moves in a certain way, and can attack others within a certain guideline.

“It’s very similar to a narcissistic family where all the players within that family, whether they want to be or not, are forced into a survival mode to find a spot,” she said. “They either support the narcissistic parent or they are the focus of the narcissistic parent’s rage.”

The narcissistic parent is in control of the chessboard, always choosing who gets favored, and who suffers their wrath. These games mean certain patterns show up in narcissistic families. Thomas identified five of them.

1. The neutral sibling

The neutral sibling walks a delicate balance between the narcissistic parent and the siblings, Thomas said, because they are attempting to be a peacemaker.

“There’s a lot of mental gymnastics that have to happen when it comes to being a neutral sibling,” she said. “Because you’re there, and you’re trying to pretend you’re not seeing what you’re seeing, and being the glue.”

But rather than achieving tranquility, the mediator is actually a really unhealthy role to play. The neutral sibling tries to come from a kind place, but then ends up denying what they see in an attempt to make everybody happy. As a result, it can be incredibly hard for other siblings to get close to the neutral one, not least because of the emotional wall they put up to be able to ignore all the pain around them.

“The neutral sibling is very much trying to keep the facade going — that this family is healthy,” said Thomas. “They try and focus on the healthy parts of the family, but it’s very lopsided, like a strong denial.”

2. The needy sibling

Being needy means relying excessively on someone, and the needy sibling in a family does this with the parent either out of necessity, or because they are also narcissistic.

Thomas said she often sees that the narcissistic parent will infantilize the needy sibling to stop them from being independent, as it enables them to keep getting their narcissistic supply of adoration. Also, it helps them deny any wrongdoing towards the rest of the family.

“If they’ve been harmful or mean to children in the family, they can point to how much they’ve helped this particular sibling to counterbalance any sort of judgment of them,” said Thomas. “That sibling getting on their feet and getting strong often isn’t the goal of the narcissistic parent. They say it, but their actions completely enable a dependency.”

There’s also a chance the needy sibling is toxic themselves, so their dependency is manufactured. This means the sibling and the narcissistic parent are in a “toxic dance,” Thomas said.

“It’s a way to try and triangulate the siblings,” she said. “It creates this imbalance between the siblings where there is jealousy and competition and all that sort of chaos.”

3. The flying monkey

There will always be a “flying monkey” in a narcissistic family, said Thomas, which is the sibling who is most actively involved with helping triangulate everyone to cause the most upset possible.

“They love to use group texts as a form of harassment towards others in the family,” she said. “The flying monkey sibling is just as toxic as the narcissistic parents. They see the games the parents play, and they reinforce allegiance to the parents through their direct relationship within the sibling subgroup.”

They report back everything the other siblings say about the parent, like Wicked Witch’s flying monkeys in “The Wizard of Oz.”

But nobody is safe in a narcissistic family, even the flying monkey after all their loyalty.

“Sometimes one who was a flying monkey may become a target for the parent down the road,” Thomas said. “If they in any way stop feeding that narcissistic supply to the parent, that’s how that can happen.”

It’s also a choice that at some point becomes free will. If they continue to do the narcissistic parent’s bidding way into adulthood, they are making that choice.

“They’re insightful enough to know these are behaviors that should not be tolerated,” Thomas said. “And yet they add gasoline on top on them.”

4. The withdrawn sibling

Not to be confused with being neutral, the withdrawn sibling is always observing what is happening around them. But rather than trying to keep the peace, they find cover for safety and keep to themselves most of the time. It’s a coping mechanism to try and fly under the radar — but it doesn’t really work.

“They see all the games, manipulations, and chaos that is purposefully stirred up by narcissistic parents,” said Thomas. “Being the withdrawn sibling often leads to speaking up about the toxicity in the family and that causes them to become the scapegoated sibling.”

The scapegoat is then the target of the majority of abuse by the narcissistic parent, and any flying monkeys in the family. The withdrawn sibling often finds themselves in the firing line because they’re the only one to vocalize what they’re seeing as wrong.

5. Pseudomutuality

Narcissistic families usually look close and tight-knit to the outside world. But in reality, they’re the most broken and segregated of them all.

“There’s a term called pseudomutuality, and it’s this clinical term that describes this pseudo-closeness within families,” said Thomas. “When you look a little bit behind the billboard you realize all these toxic dynamics are happening.”

This can be incredibly hard for someone coming into the family unit, like an in-law or partner, because what they’re portraying to the public simply isn’t the truth.

“People have to be very very careful before they move from dating to an engagement to marriage that the family they are marrying into is actually matching what they present themselves to be,” Thomas said.

If you’re looking for support because you think you are a survivor of a narcissistic parent, you can contact groups like The Echo Society, or join raisedbynarcissists on Reddit.

All parents want their kids to enjoy each other’s company and have each other’s back. Here are some ways to build the relationship between siblings and create a strong, lasting friendship.

Help kids channel energy into bonding activities.

Steer them toward games and projects that play to both sibling’s strengths. If one of your kids finds it hard to sit still, suggest building a fort outside instead of a Lego castle inside. More activities that lend themselves to twosomes: Baking cookies or making an obstacle course. See if you can get them to take pictures of each other goofing around that you can print out and tack to the bulletin board.

Allow for time away from each other.

Sometimes too much together time promotes fights. When siblings get a break from each other, and can spend time alone or with friends, they appreciate each other more when they reconnect. Time spent on their own activities also gives competitive kids a way to explore and experiment without measuring themselves against their siblings.

Try not to referee fights.

Sibling squabbles are no fun to listen to. But they teach kids how to negotiate and manage conflict. Another bonus to letting them learn to settle their differences on their own? They won’t accuse you of playing favorites and always taking one kid’s side. Make sure you listen (sympathetically) to both sides. But then stress that you know they can come up with a good solution themselves.

Create family traditions.

Have weekly pizza and movie nights. Or maybe every summer your family hosts its own Olympic games, complete with special made-up events. (Who will be the bottle-top-flicking champion this year?) Or organize an annual yard sale where everyone pitches in—and use the proceeds to do something fun together. These kinds of activities create memories and a shared history that help create lasting bonds.

Team up for chores.

Pick tasks kids can do together such as raking leaves, doing the dishes or walking the dog. Working together to finish the task fosters a spirit of cooperation. Plus, chores are less a chore when you have a partner!

Take family vacations.

When kids are away from friends and familiar routines, it’s amazing how much more they enjoy each other. Your time away together doesn’t have to be elaborate or expensive. A weekend camping adventure or a road trip to visit grandparents is sure to lead to fun times and a great story to share later.

Find a passion they share.

It doesn’t have to be anything too high-minded. Perhaps your kids look forward to watching World Cup Soccer matches or the latest episode of a reality TV show. Or maybe they both share an obsession with dinosaurs or cars. Nurture that mutual interest.


About the Author

About the Author

Kate Kelly has been writing and editing for more than 20 years, with a focus on parenting.

Reviewed by

Reviewed by

Molly Algermissen, PhD is an associate professor of medical psychology at Columbia University Medical Center and clinical director of PROMISE.

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