Parenting K-6 Kids/Parenting my younger brother


QUESTION: Hi Leslie,
I am Staci, 20 and my brother Ryan 11 are living with our guardian Malory. We lost our parents 6 yrs back in an accident and ever since that I have been the big sister for Ryan. I spend time together, always make him feel he is not alone, care for him and being his best bud. He scared to sleep alone after our parents loss and always sleeps with me. We have been good cuddling each other all along and I have been extremely happy to offer him the comfort, warm and support that he needs by cuddling. We are dressed in nightwear while we sleep. But off late, I could sense that he feels more comfortable by feeling over my bare skin (having his arm over my tummy underneath my camis). I don't feel anything different except for this change. Is it a sign of maturity for him that I need to worry about? Do i need to ask him to sleep alone? I don't want to hurt him any means either. Please advice.

ANSWER: Hi Staci,
I'm all for you comforting him and supporting him, but you're entering into an area that could quickly be seen as inappropriate. He's 11 and entering into an age in which bodies and sexual feelings are going to become more interesting to him. After six years, he should be able to sleep on his own, if effort was made to help both of you work through your loss.

I would encourage him to sleep alone but you don't need to make it seem like a rejection. Simply say he's 11 and old enough or you're 20 and want you're own bed. Perhaps you can sit with him on his bed to decompress at the end of the day and offer love and support, without the cuddling.

Leslie Truex, MSW

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Thanks Leslie. I always wanted to try your suggestion before he hits the teenage. The major problem that I always wanted to avoid is to make him feel it as a rejection as you rightly mentioned. I tried your option however last night.
I kinda mentored him that he is growing up and the necessity to sleep alone. I stayed with him in his room until he sleeps and then went back to my room. However in the middle of  the night, he woke up and joined me. To my dismay, I was sleeping naked to be added up to the embarrassment. However he didnt mind anything and was just sleeping cuddling me as usual.
Later in the morning, he mentioned that he will not sleep alone and invoke emotional threatens if I induce him to do so.
I feel I am making situations much worse. Please advice me.

Hi Staci,
First off, I'd avoid sleeping naked for this very reason. While your and your brother's intentions may be innocent, it's quickly moving toward inappropriate.

Next, you can't give up after one attempt. Of course he'll try to manipulate you. You're changing the rules. But you have to stick to your guns. Children will use anything that you can't let it work. You're a 20-year old woman and he's an 11 year old boy. If he needs support and comfort, you need to find something other than his sleeping with you. In fact, I'm a little surprised he still wants to ... unless he is getting a sexual charge of some sort. Usually 11 year old boys would think sleeping with the big sister for comfort was childish.

Regardless, you need to set the limit. Get the guardian to support it and you. Find another way to support him.

You didn't mention, did you all have counseling after the deaths of your parents? That could help as well.

Leslie Truex, MSW

Parenting K-6 Kids

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Leslie Truex


I am a parent of two, but also I'm a social worker with over 15 year experience working with children and families. I can provide many tips and techniques to help with child behavior, interventions for specific behavioral issues, ideas to help children through difficult times such as divorce or grief, hints on keeping the family running smoothly, and tips for developing confident, happy children.


I have a master's in social work and over 15 years experience working with children and families. I have worked in schools, public health, mental health and adoption agencies providing parent education courses and children's groups.

BA in Psychology and MSW.

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