Fostering a loving sibling relationship, with Nicole DiGiacobbe

voices of your village May 23, 2019



In today’s episode, I was jazzed to chat with my friend Nicole DiGiacobbe

about raising siblings who have a loving, empathetic relationship with one another. So many folks ask me about raising siblings and how to raise kiddos to have this type of connection with one another, who aren’t fighting or in battle constantly. Can we do this? The answer is “yes,” and Nicole shares what she has done and what she practices to achieve this - and these are tips you can add to your parenting toolbox starting today.

Nicole’s daughters are 21 months apart, so we chatted a little bit about the prep work she went through, if any, in preparing big sis Olivia for the arrival of little sis Emmy. Nicole shared that she did put a lot of effort into preparing big sis - Nicole admits that she was very concerned about how Olivia would adjust, and although she was over-the-moon to be pregnant, she was also sad that she wouldn’t be able to spend as much time with Olivia once little sis was here and worried how this would affect her as well. She felt a big change coming, so she found preparing Olivia as much as possible to be very important. When her daughters were introduced to each other for the first time, it went very well, and as their “new” life continued, she found that all of her worries didn’t come to fruition. Some of the ways Nicole prepared Olivia included getting her excited about being a big sister by talking to her enthusiastically about it, reading her books about being a big sister, and getting Olivia a gift from the baby when they brought her home. They also bought her a baby doll and inspired Olivia to make a connection between the doll and the baby in mommy’s belly.

Did Olivia demonstrate any challenging behaviors when Emmy was born and during that big transition? Nicole explains that they didn’t see any of that in the early days, but are currently, now that Emmy is getting older. In the beginning, Olivia really took on the role of big sister, and when Emmy was a baby, as Nicole shared, there wasn’t much Emmy was doing to annoy Olivia. She also believes tandem nursing really helped foster her kiddos’ bond in those early days as well. Now, Nicole says, she has to work daily to build their relationship and teach them lessons about how to interact with each other. Sharing is their biggest challenge right now - which is to be expected between kiddos ages four and two.

Many folks have shared that they worry that giving a new baby the level of attention they require will have negative implications for the older sibling down the road, even if issues don’t surface in the beginning. Nicole’s advice is to get big bro or sis involved with the baby as much as possible. For example, “Can you do this to help mommy?” Or while feeding the baby, asking the older sibling to rub baby’s cheek, for example.   

I asked Nicole how she has laid the foundation for empathy between her two kiddos - I brought up an example I had seen in a video on her Instagram in which Olivia offered to help Emmy with something she was having trouble with. Nicole shared that the first thing she always says to Olivia when they are fighting is, “How would you feel if Emmy did this to you?” Her answer is almost always “sad,” and Nicole then follows up by asking how she thinks Emmy is feeling, then? When she makes the connection that Emmy is probably feeling sad, too, it usually works that she will calm down and listen to what mommy is saying. In other instances when things seem to escalate and both are crying and upset, she gets down to their level, tries to listen to them to really understand the big emotions they’re feeling, and they all hold hands and take a deep breath. Once they are calm, she then continues on with trying to put them into each other’s shoes. She acknowledges that Emmy is probably still too little to “get it,” but big sister definitely does. Big hugs are always part of the exercise - which is for both mama and the kiddos because these situations can definitely be frustrating for the parent - but Nicole always tries to remember that they are still so little. Nicole is demonstrating so many positive key things here, especially the modeling - modeling not only the deep breathing to calm the big emotions, but modeling the empathy for big sister Olivia, who is, in turn, modeling the empathy for little sis Emmy. This emotional foundation is so important. 

Nicole shared that the girls have begun hitting lately, especially little Emmy hitting Olivia. Nicole immediately reminds Emmy that we don’t hit and that hitting will give Olivia booboos. Emmy always responds by giving Olivia kisses and Nicole makes sure that “sorry” is said. Olivia sometimes gets aggressive when she is feeling frustrated with her little sister. Nicole reminds her that little sisters want to be like their big sisters, and it’s her job as a big sister to teach her and protect her, not to hurt her. Nicole sees evidence of her hard work here in little instances, like Olivia walking behind Emmy up the stairs to make sure she doesn’t fall. 

As I’ve chatted about on previous episodes, I truly believe in the four-to-one ratio - for every one negative behavior we’re talking to kiddos about, I want to be highlighting four positive ones. When we see our kiddos doing something that’s kind or helpful, acknowledging this can go a long way in their understanding of what behavior deserves praise. If you’re told that you’re a kind, helpful sister, then that’s who you’ll be. Nicole and her kiddos always end the day by sharing their favorite part of the day and also their favorite things about each other - so her girls fall asleep every night with their mama telling them how smart, kind, and funny they are. It’s a positive way to end each day because every day isn’t perfect.

I asked Nicole what her hopes are for her two girls as siblings as they continue to grow, and how she plans to foster that through the different ages and stages. Nicole shared that her girls growing up close and being best friends is her biggest hope, and the thought of them not getting along or not speaking to each other is her biggest nightmare. She reminds them multiple times a day that “your sister is your best friend” and that they will have each other forever. It is very important to Nicole that her kiddos will always be very close. She even looks down the road and anticipates how she will handle conflicts among her girls when they are older - she believes it will be important to respond to a situation like if one of the girls comes to her with a complaint about her sister, for example, in a way in which she does not take sides or say anything bad about the other. So, in the present time, how does she address one kiddo hitting the other without placing the blame on just one of them? She explains that she likes to ask, “Why did Emmy hit you?” to uncover that behavior, then ultimately tell Emmy “you can’t hit Olivia,” and tell Olivia, “You can’t hog the toy,” for example. I call it “sportscasting” when we just say what we see, which is a really good strategy. 

I wrapped up our chat by asking Nicole what she would tell herself if she could tell herself pre-Emmy, or pre-second kiddo, one thing about what was to come. Her response was that there is no need for any worry you have thinking about what it would be like bringing in a second child - your love just completely doubles. To be able to parent two kiddos and see their bond and know that they will have each other forever is the best thing ever. 


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