Family Matters says: your attitude can improve them even more.
In psychological studies, the age gap between siblings is very important and is used to explain many behaviors and relationships (can you imagine yourself lying on the shrink’s sofa and complaining about your brother who came into your life too early and took all the attention away from you?).
One of the most important subjects, which was part of every year of my Special Education studies, was Child Development. To be able to understand kids who were different, we had to learn what the norm was and the reasons for the differences. The family dynamic and age gap between siblings was a factor in every case study. Over time, I got a feeling that by focusing on this, we gave people a good excuse to have problems.
There were points in my life when I could imagine myself lying on that sofa and talking about my own sister, but not the sister born 3 years after me (who became my best friend when I was 16), but about my older sister who was the smarter, the best, the successful and boy did I hate her for it.
Someone once asked me about the right age gap between kids and I said there was not such a thing as the right age gap and that there are many factors that determine what is right for each parent. I still think so!
In a research published by the Journal of Family Psychology, Dr. Laurie Kramer, professor of applied family studies at the University of Illinois, followed 28 sibling pairs from the age of 4 to adolescence and found that “a child’s socialization with friends before the arrival of a sibling can predict a more positive relationship between the siblings”.
I was happy to read about this research because it added another factor to the dilemma of the right age – the social factor.
It sounds like the right age gap and social skills are not really connected, when in fact they are. Getting along with a sibling requires good social skills that young kids staying at home with mother all day (even if she is the best in the world) cannot acquire (and no, going once a week to a play group or to a swimming class is not enough to establish social skills).
In the first year of schooling, every teacher can tell the difference between kids who have spent most of their days with mommy and kids who have attended any structured education system (day care or similar). The differences in their social skills are so obvious that the teacher could tell you if the kid has attended a full time program, 2-3 days a week or only 1 day.
Social skills are part of every child’s emotional intelligence. If kids form these skills before they have to deal with the arrival of a sibling, they are more likely to succeed in that relationship. As in many other areas, practice makes perfect (OK, it makes a lot better). Kids with good friends are equipped with a better attitude towards caring, sharing, compromising and not being the center of the attention.
If you observe families around you, many of the conflicts between siblings are presented by parents as an age gap problem, when in fact the kids’ social skills, the parents’ belief system and circumstances are more likely to affect the relationship.
You can only control the age gap between your kids when you make the decision to have them (that is if you make the choice…). Sometimes, even making a choice does not work the way you want it to. I am a good example (well, actually a sad example) of not being able to control the timing of kids, because nature/God had other plans.
What you can control is your attitude as a parent towards the right age gap. The right attitude is to make the best of every age gap. If your kids are close in age, focus on the benefits of being close in age. If your kids are far apart in age, focus on the benefits of having a large gap. This attitude will have a positive influence on their relationship, no matter when they were born.
You might not be able to control the age gap, so control your focus!