How to Encourage College Age Son to Engage with Younger Siblings?

Updated on March 12, 2018
D.D. asks from Goodyear, AZ
13 answers

My just turned 20 yr old son (from 1st marriage) opted not to go away to university and stay at home to attend Jr. College. My husband and I took him to visit many colleges but said he was more cost savings to do first two years at home. Wow! pretty smart kiddo, right? He has done very good in college with his grades, he started working in the emergency room full time and attending college full time. He is going into medical field. My husband and I wanted to have children right after getting married so that my son (at the time three yrs old) and his siblings wouldn't be that far apart. Well it took 5 years to get pregnant. My older son was thrilled to have a baby brother (2nd born) and was very good with him. We got pregnant with my third child and my oldest son was not happy at all. When it was a baby sister he was happy again. Jump forward 10 yrs later...
My older son wants nothing to do with his siblings. Okay I get it your a college student, working full time in a very busy intense environment (ER). He is rude to them at times he yells at them because they are annoying. He refuses to attend any of their sporting events on the weekends. I get it all he wants to do is zone out and chill in the safe zone of home. What causes my concern is that his sister was watching that movie about the 19 fire fighters that died fighting the Yarnell Fire a few years ago and she was crying. She leaned over to lay her head on his shoulder and he said get away, stop crying. This broke his little sisters heart. She was just wanting comfort after watching a pretty sad movie. Then his response hurt her feelers even more because her favorite big brother was so mean.

My question. How do you get your adult son to be kind and engaged with his younger siblings?

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So What Happened?

You know I told my older son that I understand he is a very busy man. Very proud of his hard work of going to school and holding a full time job at such a high stress job. However he needs to treat everyone in the house with kindness and respect. If he can't do that then he needs to find another place to live. I also reminded with him that his siblings are growing up and he needs to give them a chance. His thing is that he likes complete quite and well lets be real 10-11 yr olds are not quite. I did remind the children that they need to really not hate their older brother. Life with him will get better once they are older.

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answers from Anchorage on

You can insist on respect, but he should not be expected to do things like attend sporting events. I don't know if you remember what it was like to be a full time college student on top of working full time, but any tiny amount of free time that I had left I liked to spend sleeping or spending time with the people or hobbies that relaxed me and made me happy. He is an young adult, he doesn't want to hand out with children all the time partly because he is no longer a child and doesn't want to be seen as one, and that is okay.

Yes, insist on kindness and basic respect, but other than that leave him alone and let him find his way into adulthood.

2 moms found this helpful

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answers from Honolulu on

I think that by forcing less, you will gain more.

Start by telling your oldest son that you're sorry you've been insisting that he attend sporting events. That's something that parents do, not college kids who work full time in an emergency room. Don't just drop that request: address it clearly with your son and tell him that sporting events are now off his to-do list.

Then, make sure your oldest son has a place to relax. I hope he has his own bedroom. Let him relax as much as he wants, or study alone. WiFi in his room, and a place to sit without interruption from younger siblings. Everyone knocks before entering his room. Make that clear to your younger kids.

He's not responsible for your daughter's movie reactions. She's 10, right? That movie is PG-13, if I am not mistaken, and if she is watching an emotionally charged movie about such a serious and tragic event, then it is your responsibility as her mother to either watch it with her, or address any emotions or feelings or questions that arise. Your son is not a parent; he can't be expected to respond with a parent's unconditional love and with the patience that years of parenting brings when a young child feels upset.

Let your oldest son know how proud you are of him, and let him know that you've been expecting parenting behavior from him when he should be a student and an ER staff member and he should be acting like a 20 year old with no kids.

That does NOT, however, exempt him from being a basically polite human being and member of the family. Remind him that it is his choice to live at home, and home includes parents and siblings, and a home functions smoothly when there is respect - both ways. Lay down some basic expectations. You will require less "parenting" behavior from him, and in return he will simply act respectfully towards others in the home. If he eats food in your kitchen, he washes his dishes or puts them in the dishwasher. If he uses your washer and dryer, he doesn't leave wet towels on the floor or dump his laundry on the floor in front of the washer. If he has a full day of classes then a full night of work, and if he needs some clothes washed or a lunch packed, he's to ask you politely. Otherwise those things will be up to him.

Don't expect him to watch tv in the living room, or use his computer in the family room. Ensure that he has privacy and the privileges of being a good college student and effective medical team member.

Say what you expect from him, and say what freedom he has earned, aloud. Don't just assume that by not inviting him to next week's soccer game, he'll get that he doesn't have to go. Be clear, and be respectful.

7 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

I have a similar situation and age oldest son is turning 20 and lives at home while working FT (he was taking some college classes but paused on that as his job is in his career and is going well). My younger sons, his half brothers, are 12 and 14.

Honestly, I don't put any expectations on my son other than to clean up after himself, let me know if he won't be home, and show up for birthdays and holidays and an occasional dinner or outing with extended family. He's saving me a ton of money by living at home and is doing what he needs to do at this phase in his life. His step-sister is the same age and away at school - she has little relationship with the younger boys while she's away and barely sees them when she's home because she's a young adult and busy with her own life. I'm not going to expect more from him just because he's here and not hundreds of miles away. I don't expect him to come to games and activities for his younger siblings or to hang out with them. When they do spend time together it's nice but he's more of a housemate than a brother at this point and I don't have a problem with that.

I guess I would figure out what the non-negotiables are for your family, set those expectations and let the rest go. If I were you, I would try to think about what it would be like if he were away at school - would you expect him to attend sporting events for his siblings or be home for Sunday dinner? Probably not, right? So those might not be a hill to die on. But being civilized to his siblings when he is home is a totally reasonable expectation - he doesn't need to hang out with them, but it doesn't cost him time or energy to be kind. Remind him of that. Focus on what is really important in your family and let the rest go.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Norfolk on

You are trying to force something when he's at an age when he is forging his adult relationships - friends, girlfriends, professors, college work and college socializing.
He's just not in the family groove right now - he's pulling away - and I think every young adult goes through this one way or another.

He needs his space - and it's difficult when he's living at home.
While he wants nothing to do with his siblings - he doesn't get to make that call while living/using the common family spaces.
If he 'wants to be alone' - he can go do it in his room.
Heck - if he were in a dorm - you pretty much only sleep in your room.
The rest of the time you are out doing things with your friends.
So in theory - he should be home to sleep and that's about it.

When everyone is together - everyone can be nice - but that also means the other kids don't have to be hanging all over him either.
It's not his job to parent his younger siblings.
You are all negotiating new boundaries - and that can be very healthy - but in your house you get to lay down the ground rules.

In short - don't force togetherness - but when you are all together - everyone needs to mind their manners - and that means the younger kids too.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Pittsburgh on

I think that you can tell him that he needs to be kind. He needs to give his siblings at least as much common courtesy as he would give to strangers. Would he yell at or rudely tell a sad woman in the ER to stop crying? I doubt it (if the answer is yes, then he needs a new career goal).

However, I think that forcing him to engage is a mistake. He's a college student, and if he'd prefer to relax for a day instead of attending a 10 year old soccer game, that is completely ok. You can invite him, but there should be no guilt-trips. disapproving looks, or sighs of disappointment if he says no.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

I think the advice given below is really good.

I have an age gap with my kids - none are adults yet, but the oldest is a teen and really wants not a lot to do with the youngest - so I can relate on some level to what you are saying. I also know the more you force it, the worse it is - so I just don't.

However, I can relate as being the youngest of a large family, and there's a large gap.

My parents never expected my older siblings to hang out with me. I grew up having to be very self sufficient. I had best friends who became like my sisters and I am still exceptionally close to them to this day. The added bonus? My siblings are also like best friends of mine too - once I became an adult. Once you're all adults, you can become very close (the age gap closes up it seems) so long as your parents didn't force relationships. Or that was the case with us.

I can't add to the advice given below. I don't think you force him to go to their sporting events, etc. I don't make my teens go to their younger siblings' stuff. They would have no interest.

My boys will help an injured sister or one that is in jeopardy. They certainly wouldn't want to be touched (i.e. they would likely shove a sister off and say something similar). Not sure if that helps.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

your son is an adult. he's 20 years old, a full time college student and working full time. teaching him lessons about kindess and compassion is futile. your time to do that ended a couple of years ago. he gets to pick how he feels now, and if he's too busy and stressed (or selfish and mean at heart) to have deep meaningful sweet relationships with his younger siblings all you can do is enforce basic household rules of courtesy, and help the younger ones cope with the fact that this is not a time period where their big brother is going to interact with them positively.

you do get to insist that he's not rude and doesn't yell, but if your son, who sounds like a good egg, is really such a jerk that he'll yell and be rude despite your family rules, then you have to accept the fact that you raised a jerk.

i doubt that's the case.

he's probably just a nice young man who is up to his eyeballs in a super challenging schedule and needs to be allowed to spend his very limited free time however he wants.

maybe he'd be a little gentler with his siblings if he weren't being nagged to spend his precious down time at their sporting events.


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answers from Dallas on

Oh I have the same issue with my 19 year old with his little brother that is 15. He lives at college but when he comes home I tell him when he's in our house he's got to abide by our rules and the main one is respect. He hangs out with his friends when he comes home that some are his brothers age so it's not an age thing. He just get's annoyed by his brother.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

That's hard. First I think I would not ask or expect him to go to his sibling's sporting events. Even when my kids were all at home they did not attend each others' events, they were busy doing their own things (and yes sometimes that was just staying home.)
As far as young adult siblings being mean to the younger siblings (like the example you shared) I certainly would have said something, probably, "hey Billy stop being such a jerk to your little sister!" If it got to be an ongoing problem I'd be having a real conversation about respecting his family members at least as much as he will be expected to respect his fellow roommates and coworkers going forward.

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answers from Miami on

It's YOUR home and YOUR rules. You're paying for his college education. One of the rules is that he can't treat family members like this. He's being a jerk and you don't have to put up with it.

Have a sit-down with him. Ask him if he's planning on being that COLD to his patients at the hospital. Don't let this go.

Find the movie "The Doctor" (it's an old movie) with William Hurt and watch it with him. If he is going to be a good doctor, he needs to work on his humanity. And his FAMILY needs to have the best of it now.



answers from New York on

The people that I CHOOSE to live in my home, including any adult children, must show a certain level of kindness and respect to the people who HAVE to live here (like myself, hubby, or minor children). Your son has alternative housing options - 20 yr olds do not have to live at home. No yelling, no rudeness - in other words, act like a respectful adult.

As far as the "engaging" portion of it - no you can't push that. Adults get to make choices about how they spend their time. That being said, if I had a family member (whether it be adult child or not), that was living with me for free, I might put some stipulations on a few things. Why? Because nothing is ever "free." We do expect our adult children to show SOME support to the younger kids - whether it be through occasional attendance of an event, or spending the occasional hour or two together.

It sounds like your son feels like he has license to be a jerk at home. Not cool. He doesn't get to act that way at work or school - so he shouldn't at home. I guess I'd be having a talk about showing respect and support to family members and what your expectations are relative to that in return for free room and board. If he doesn't like it, he is totally free to find a place to rent or even start paying you rent.

I'd also stop making excuses for him: busy college student, working in an intense environment who needs a place to chill in his safe zone? Sheesh . . .



answers from Oklahoma City on

Would you expect your adult visitors to engage and play with your younger kids? If you look at your son with that same line of thought you can sort of see where he's coming from. He's an adult out doing adult things and you want him to spend time with little kids.

I get it, really, I do. I have a 14 year old teen and then have an 11 year old and 7 year old. They are ALL in different developmental stages and do not play together. When the little one is lonely and wants to play with the bigger kids they aren't having any of that.

This is why kids need their own friends. They can play with kids their age.

I do agree that your son "could" make an effort to go to their games on occasion on the weekends IF it's not too early in the day.



answers from San Antonio on

There are two different issues here: 1) your expectation of his relationship with MUCH younger siblings, and 2) reasonable expectations of adult behavior.

1) It's not reasonable to expect him to hang, be social with, be "friends" with his younger siblings. It's just not. He's a fully grown adult and they are children. They have NOTHING in common to be "friends" at this time. Stop pushing this because you're building up expectations in the little ones and resentment in your oldest. Let any relationship grow on its own. If you leave it alone, it may happen over time.

2) Just because he doesn't have anything in common with them and being friends makes no sense, that does NOT entitle him to act like a child and be a dick to them. He needs to be an ADULT and treat them with respect and as people. THAT is non-negotiable if he is going to live in your home.

Tell him that you were being unreasonable in your expectation of the kind of relationship he has with his siblings and that you're not going to push that any longer.

Let him know that you will talk to the kiddos and establish boundaries, because he's a full time student, he NEEDS his down time. They NEED to leave him alone. He's not their full time sitter or playmate. Find out what HE needs. Find out what THEY need, and facilitate what works best for everybody's sanity. Extend an open invitation to their stuff to him, BUT do not EXPECT him to attend things. Take the heat off.

BUT also tell him, in no uncertain terms, that acting like a grade-A jerk to them won't fly. You expect him to be polite, and that you will treat HIM like he treats them. You'll treat him like an adult if he acts like one. If he acts like a petulant child, he gets treated like one.

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