Positive parenting with large age gaps has unique challenges, especially during the holidays when different activities are scheduled for each child. It is important to recognize each child as an individual with their own needs and desires. As a mom of 3, I have been told many times that "You can't pour from an empty cup." The same holds true for our children. We must help them fill their cups with love, respect, discipline and guidance so that they may share with each other. Sibling rivalry is inevitable but there are some things we can do to minimize conflict while promoting healthy relationships.
Helping is great but don't require or force older children to "parent" younger siblings. It’s not appropriate and can cause resentment. Make family rules and routines together instead. An organized and predictable home helps tots and teens feel secure and loved, especially during the holidays when everything is hectic. Routines built around having fun or spending time together help solidify bonds. They also let your children know what is important to your family.
Put each child on your schedule for a little one on one time. I add random things for each child frequently. These are simple things that don't take much time. Last week I made it a point to start a conversation about Pokémon with my son (10), woke my oldest daughter (16) up with a surprise cup of cocoa, and fed the birds outside with my youngest (2). Each of these happened on different days of the week and only took a few minutes. They had my undivided attention and got to have the spotlight. Taking time out to connect 1 on 1 is very important. Set reminders on your phone to help you remember.
Teach all siblings to nurture each other. Little children can do this with just a little guidance. Encourage them to ask about their older sibling's day, bring them a snack, cheer them on, etc. Encourage older children to get silly and play while spending time with their younger sibling. Give positive feedback to your children when they are interacting well. Be clear and specific about what they are doing so they will repeat their actions in the future.
If you want your children to work things out respectfully and listen to each other they need to see you modeling it. We are all more open to problem-solving and finding a solution once we feel heard and understood. Show your child how their sibling is feeling. Use descriptions of facial expressions and point out body language. This works well with children of all ages but is especially helpful for younger ones. Help them to be mindful and empathetic.
Lastly, find activities that bring your family together. My family loves cooking together, going to the library, hiking, and family game nights. We get outside as much as possible and go to free community events. YouTube has many tutorials to try that range from origami to baking. Click here and here for lists of fun family ideas to experience during the holiday season and year round.