Encouraging Sisterly Love

The girls playing doctor

I have three girls. Elyse and Tasmin are twins and almost three years old! Their sister, Shelby, is almost two and diagnosed with CHARGE Syndrome. As Elyse and Tamsin get ready to turn three one thing I’ve been thinking a lot is that I’ll no longer be able to say I have three kids under three. Then I start thinking about how I wanted to have back-to-back pregnancies so the girls could be like triplets once they got a little older. I dreamed about them sharing clothes, sleeping in the same room, playing together, and just being inseparable.

The reality is less like having a set of triplets and more like having a set of three year old identical girls and an infant even though they’re only fourteen months apart. This reality is partly caused by Shelby’s CHARGE Syndrome, hospitalizations, and other medical problems. It is also partly caused by Elyse and Tamsin’s (oh how do I say this?) lack of interest in Shelby.

Recently (like the past six months) Elyse and Tamsin are showing more interest in Shelby, but still aren’t including her like a sibling or interacting with her like they do each other. (Of course, they don’t really play with their peers either; I don’t know if this is a twin thing or what.) As mum I try to involve them with Shelby’s care, therapies, and play, here are some of the things we do:

  1. Feed Shelby: It was super scary the first time Elyse and Tamsin asked to feed Shelby, but I wanted to encourage their curiosity and sisterly love so I walked them through it. The end results are Elyse and Tamsin feel like proud big sisters, Shelby loves the attention, and it has gotten less scary.
  2. Be part of early intervention therapies: Our day is jam packed with early intervention and sometimes Elyse and Tamsin can be in the way; rather than kick them out of the living room, they get the toys our therapists need or cheer Shelby on while she is doing her exercises.
  3. Shelby throws a dance party: It’s ballerina central at our house so I set Shelby’s switch up to a cassette player and she turns the music on and off while Elyse and Tamsin dance.
  4. Encourage any and all affection: I make a huge production any time the girls hug, kiss, hold or snuggle Shelby. “Did you see Shelby smile at you when you kissed her? She LOVES you!”
  5. Read: While we read Shelby sits on my lap and someone sits on my left or right.
  6. General help: Thank you Daniel Tiger for having the “helper tiger” episode!!! Because of Daniel, Elyse and Tamsin are eager to help me with Shelby: get her therapy brush, get her AFOs, get her a spoon. Here is another opportunity to praise praise praise their help and point out how much Shelby loves having them as big sisters.

What works for you? I’d love to learn other ways to encourage sisterly love and interaction!

Nicole Feeney writes about how God grew the Feeney family from two to four to five in two quick years… and the subsequent adventures on her blog, Fab Feeney Five.

The girls playing doctor


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