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Dance Little Sister — Working With a Younger Sibling

Posted Sep 16 2009 10:22pm

If you have a younger sibling, it’s bound to happen at some point – you’re performing with your kid brother in a talent show, Mom and Dad want you both to put something together for Great Aunt Matilda’s 80th birthday, or (yikes!) you are the assistant in your sister’s dance class and have been ordered to help her…

Dancing baby
Image by quinn.anya via Flickr





As the older sibling, you’ve somehow been put “in charge” of getting results from the last person on earth who would want to listen to a word you say (except, of course, unless you’ve uttered a reportable offense for which you’re sure to be punished). So, how do you get the kid to cooperate?

  1. When it’s time to work, don’t tell her. Just bring a CD player, iPod, or whatever to a place where she is nearby. Turn on the music and start working on or doing the dance yourself (don’t even acknowledge her at this point). If it looks fun (or maybe just because deep down she really does idolize you) she may want to join you or help.
  2. While practicing, let her be the expert. Ask for her creative input, resist putting down ideas you don’t like and actually put them in the dance. If you are rehearsing, you might pretend to mess up on parts she already knows or “forget” and ask her what the next step is. Or, let her guess what comes next on parts she’s less familiar with. Even if it’s way wrong say “good guess but actually it’s this!” Make it a game – it’s okay if she knows you are pretending, if it’s silly enough she’ll probably play along anyway.
  3. Offer incentives. Perhaps you have a goal in mind for how much more you want to accomplish today – perhaps three more steps, or 16 counts (Remember the younger your sibling, the shorter her attention span is likely to be). No, do not offer cash as a bribe. Try something like “Guess what? If we learn three more steps today, mom says we can put on a show for her!” If you’re not at the end of the dance, let her know that when she finishes with the parts she knows, she can dance however she likes until the end of the music. The excitement or possibility for positive attention from an “audience” or getting to do things her way may even carry her beyond your original goal. But, if all you get is three more steps, well, at least you got that far. Don’t push her to do more.
  4. Don’t try to beat her, join her. Being bossy and controlling will not work. Forcing her to comply using threats because you’re bigger or older or more experienced will only be frustrating for both of you. Allow yourself to have fun interacting with your younger sibling. Try to be patient, funny, and energetic and you’ll see better results.
  5. Angela's Dance Co. Recital
    Image by The People’s Tribune via Flickr
  6. Acknowledge achievement. When she does go along with you, remembers a step, or show that she’s eager (even if it is just a little bit), be sure to acknowledge her. “Thanks for watching so closely, you really got it that time!” or “You remembered the kick! Wow, you’re really working hard!’ It may sound silly but, saying thank you rather than good job is more effective. And, focusing on what she did, or the work she puts in is more effective than focusing on how beautiful she is when she does it right or how good she’s being for listening. Being pretty or good (something she already is, or can be, without much effort) isn’t usually enough to keep her dedicated to the task. She’ll more willingly put in time, creativity (and do what you want) when you show appreciation for her efforts, no matter how small.

I’ve used “her” in this example just to keep things simple. Believe it or not, this stuff can work for brothers too. Not knowing your sibling very well, I can’t say what will specifically work for you. You may have to get creative! But these are the keys to success:

  • make it FUN
  • ASK rather than tell (let her be the teacher, quiz her, or find out what she thinks)
  • offer logical REWARDS for getting the job done
  • do it TOGETHER (no bossing)
  • and say THANK YOU!
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