Sibling Rivalry Will Happen; Here’s How to Help Your Firstborn Adjust
Sibling rivalry is a fact of life. Just ask any parent who has two or more children.
It wasn’t difficult for Elaine, the mother of a two-month-old baby girl and a three-year-old son, to see this fact of life. “When our son was laying on the floor in a fetal position and had his thumb in his mouth and asked me to give him a bottle,” Elaine said. “I knew immediately that he was feeling like he wasn’t getting enough attention.”
Chet also knew his daughter had feelings about her baby sister when he observed her walk quietly in the room where her younger sister was sleeping and hit her six-month-old sibling in the head with a toy. When Chet told her she needed to be gentle to her baby sister, Samantha said very bluntly, “When is she going back to the hospital? I don’t like her!”
These are rather obvious signs that a child is feeling jealous of a newly arrived sibling. When toddlers or preschoolers act in an aggressive manner toward a younger sibling, it is usually because they resent sharing the spotlight with a new brother or sister, or because they resent being ignored or left out. And when young children regress in their behavior (by, for instance, insisting that they be fed out of a bottle, crying more frequently, or by suddenly having more toileting accidents), it can be related to the arrival of a new sibling.
But it’s not that you didn’t do a good job preparing your child for a new baby. I think most parents do a great job of trying to help young children be aware of and accepting a new baby in the family. Parents these days are very much aware of the need to make sure older children know a baby is coming and to understand that they will be sharing their life with a new child.
No matter how well you prepare your child for a new baby, however, your older child – and sometimes not even you – will be fully prepared for the changes that are likely to take place in the family when a new baby comes along. For parents, it may be exhausting caring for a new baby around the clock, and this sometimes means that an older child doesn’t get nearly the attention she once did.
So what can you do when you recognize that you have a child who feels jealous, angry, or excluded?
Be aware that despite your best efforts sibling rivalry will very likely happen. It might not be apparent in the first few days, but in the later weeks and months it will be and it could go on for months.
Give your older child as much time and attention as possible. You may be sleep deprived and you may be most concerned about your baby settling into sleep and eating routines, but your older child needs to know you still love her.
Allow your first born to be a baby sometimes. Many children regress as they feel left out, so they go backwards in their development and in their needs. Allow this for a while and if he needs more cuddling and if he needs to be treated like a littler child, try to indulge him.
Look for opportunities to point out that the baby loves your older child. She may not always feel so loving towards the new kid in the family, but he will feel better if he begins to believe the baby likes him.
Teach affectionate alternatives to aggression. Many young children act in angry and aggressive ways towards the baby they see as an intruder in their life. Obviously, you want to protect the baby, but you have to teach your older child how to show gentleness and kindness when his aggression gets the better of him.
Try to enlist your older child’s help. Let him hold the baby, feed the infant a bottle, or help out when you give the baby a bath.
Finally, help him label his unpleasant feelings. You can say that children like to kiss babies sometimes and sometimes they would like the baby to go away. Many children have both feelings. But tell him that no matter what he feels about the baby, you’ll love him anyway. And remember, that’s what sibling rivalry is all about – not feeling like a beloved child after a new baby comes into the family.