parent opinion

"I let her be a kid." 4 things I'm doing to prevent my daughter experiencing 'oldest child syndrome'.

As the youngest in my family, my parents put a lot of pressure on my eldest sister to take care of us and set a good example. 

She has many qualities of the eldest daughter syndrome. She is a reliable, cautious, responsible, overachieving natural leader.

She matured quickly and in some ways; I think she was robbed of her childhood. Our relationship evolved as we grew up and we bonded a bit when I became a mother.

However, there will always be a power differential between us where our connection is more like a parent-child than a sibling-sibling one.

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Video via Loose Women.

This is something I do not want for my children. When I had my son, I vowed to make sure their relationship remains at a peer-to-peer level so that my daughter does not feel obligated to watch over her brother. Rather, they will take care of each other equally.

Here are four things I'm doing to prevent eldest daughter syndrome in my family.

1. I let her be a kid.

My daughter is five, and she needs to know she can act and behave like a five-year-old. What do five-year-olds like to do?

Run, play, jump, climb, draw, talk, scream, socialise and, most importantly, test boundaries. She’s gaining a bit of independence every day and will often push my buttons. However, I refrain from saying sentences like, "You’re the oldest so you should know better" or "You’re acting like your baby brother".

When she misbehaves, instead of reminding her she needs to be a role model for her brother, I tell her why her behaviour is inappropriate and give consequences specific to what she did.

Then I ask her questions to see where she is emotionally and mentally at. That way, it set her limits based on her individual development, not on her role as the eldest.

2. I give her responsibilities based on her age, not her firstborn position.

My daughter has many responsibilities that my son does not have. My daughter can physically put her dishes in the sink, get dressed, make her bed, clean up her toys, and wash her hands by herself. She helps sweep the floor, set the table and fetches small items for me.


However, I do not overburden her with responsibilities that are beyond her age, like changing her brother’s diaper, consoling him when he cries, cleaning up his messes, feeding him, dressing him, and so forth.

In addition, when she’s older, I will give her a choice to babysit. She will be compensated fairly. Just because she’s the eldest does not mean she is responsible for her younger brother. That’s me and my husband’s job.

3. I give her special privileges and keep my word.

As the oldest, she is like our guinea pig, as she will be the first to do many things. I remember my parents were often hypocritical in what age we could do certain things. From staying up late, dyeing our hair, getting good grades, and piercing ears to dating, they often enforced the strictest rules for my eldest sister. And by the time I wanted to do these things, the age rules went out the door.

However, with my kids, I try to be as consistent as possible. There are specific toys that my son cannot play with because they are choking hazards. My daughter keeps them in her room and she is allowed to play with them. She gets permission to play on the iPad; her brother doesn’t. She has a bag that holds her favourite snacks she can have, but her brother cannot yet.

She gets a say in which playground we play at, what she eats for lunch, what clothes she wants to wear and other decisions that her brother doesn’t have. As she continues to mature, I will grant her more privileges to reflect on her development, and her brother will just have to wait.

Listen to This Glorious Mess and join Holly and Andrew, delve into the lives of twins Jessie and Clare and find out how they really feel about one another. Post continues after podcast.

4. I give her undivided, individual quality-time.

Lastly, I make time to get to know her as a person. I ask her about what happened at school, her friends, classmates, favourite shows, hobbies and anything that interests her.

She loves it when I share stories about when she was younger and from my childhood. I also talk about my eldest sister and some challenges she had when she was growing up with two younger siblings.

Giving her undivided attention allows me to build trust with her and instill a sense of confidence in her so that she knows she is loved unconditionally, regardless of her birth order.

Katharine Chan, MSc, BSc, PMP is an author, wife and mum of two. She writes stories to empower individuals to talk about their feelings despite growing up in a culture that hid them. You can find more from Katharine on her website or podcast, or you can follow her on InstagramFacebookTwitter or YouTube.

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Feature Image: Getty.