Respect each child’s timeline

Published 10:11 pm Tuesday, January 28, 2020

By Nathan Rice

I realized what was happening a little too late, and now they were both screaming at each other. Timothy had used his stuffed shark to poke his sister repeatedly. She had enough and began to twist and push the shark towards him. “You’re hurting Sharky!” he screamed as she yelled, “Keep that stupid shark away from me!”

I stopped their argument, telling Timothy that he and Sharky had to stay on their side of the car and reminding Patricia that she could not hurt her brother or damage his stuffed shark.

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Patricia sulked to one side of the car as she muttered, “Him and that stupid shark. He takes it everywhere. I wish he’d just hit puberty!” Timothy held his stuffed shark and said, “Stupid teenager.”

They, like many brothers and sisters, have been each other’s closest friends and fiercest enemies. They have been through a lot together, but this year has seen some changes that they have both had difficulties processing. Patricia entered middle school and is turning into a young lady. Timothy is in his last year of elementary school and has expressed that he has no desire to turn into a “stupid teenager.”

It is hard for siblings who are close in age when one enters the teenage mindset before the other, and they suddenly have different interests. The older one can be annoyed by the games he or she played not too long ago, and the younger one is confused by his or her sibling’s loss of interest in their previous activities.

It can also be a difficult time for parents and those who work with the kids as they adjust to the new dynamic. I have learned a few things as I have worked with Timothy and Patricia this past year.

First, we should not force any child to grow up before he or she is ready, and we should not hold back a child because his or her sibling hasn’t reached the older sibling’s stage of life.

Timothy and Patricia have spent their childhood together, but Patricia is entering the next stage of life before her brother. It’s OK for Timothy to hold onto his stuffed shark, and it’s OK for Patricia to leave her stuffed animals at home. They are siblings, but they are not the same person. They shouldn’t be forced to remain in the same stage of life simply because they are close in age.

We can help them by allowing them to be different. Continue to take the younger one to the children’s activities, and do not force the older one to take his or her younger sibling to every activity or event. It’s OK if they do some things separately.

This doesn’t mean that they can no longer do anything together. They may be in a slightly different stage of life, but there are a lot of things that they can both still enjoy. Help them find these things.

Lastly, we should do what we can to ensure they are both comfortable in their own stage of life. I’ve told Patricia that I understand she is growing up, but she must respect her younger brother and not push him to grow up before his time. I’ve told Timothy that Patricia can’t force him to be a teenager. I’ve assured him that it’s OK, and even good, for him to continue to enjoy the things that Patricia yells at him for doing. Both of them need to know that they are OK exactly where they are in their lives.

Change isn’t easy, but we can help siblings who are growing up at different times by honoring their individual maturity timelines, letting them do things separately, helping them find things they can still enjoy doing together, and assuring them that they are both fine exactly where they are in their stage of life.

Nathan Rice is a Hampton Roads native and can be reached at