Did you just have a new baby and are now dealing with a jealous toddler or older sibling? You probably feel frustrated, sad and confused. But take a moment to consider how your child is feeling.
You’re two years old. For the last two years – aka your entire existence – you have been the baby of the family. You have no older siblings, so you have also been the center of your parents’ world.
Suddenly, Mom runs off to the hospital and Dad drops you at Grandma’s house. She’s excited to have you with her but also making tons of phone calls and seems distracted.
Usually, when you’re around, your grandmother is totally focused on you but this time she’s not spoiling you with attention.
When you wake up the next morning, Grandma is grinning like a fool. You don’t know why.
She feeds you, dresses you and brings you to your house where your mother, father and the rest of the extended family are all waiting.
In the middle of the crowd of relatives, you find what all of the fuss is about: a tiny, squirming, screaming person. Everyone is obsessed with the itty-bitty human.
You suddenly realize your life will never be the same again.
While we adults are enjoying the sweet tiny fingers and toes and darling coos of a brand new infant, there is often another child nearby wondering where they fit in.
Of course, jealousy is natural in this situation. Once you realize it’s normal, you can look at preventing and overcoming jealous or envious behaviors.
Here are some basic tips for working through this totally normal and natural stage in a sibling relationship.
1Don’t blame the baby
Be careful with your words and what you tell your toddler about the baby’s role in the household. For example, don’t say: “We can’t go to the fast food restaurant because the baby has to nap.”
Instead, say: “We can’t go out to eat today because it does not fit into our schedule.”
Also, remember that your child is soaking up what you say, so expressing that the baby is making you tired or cranky will be processed by a small child as “The baby is the cause of all of the problems in our life.”
2Read about being a big sibling
There are so many fantastic books out there about becoming an older brother or sister. Sharing them with your child will give them insight into their emotions and help them realize that they are not alone.
A few of my favorites are:
- Outside Over There by Maurice Sendak
- Julius the Baby of the World by Kevin Henkes
- What Brothers Do Best by Laura Numeroff
3Make the big kid a “hero” of the house
This is not the time to start telling your child to be a “big kid” or “grow up”. They already feel displaced and unsure of their role in the home. They don’t need to suddenly mature overnight because there’s a new baby in the house. That not a fair expectation.
However, in the narrative that you use to talk about your home and family, make your older child the ‘hero’. Talk about how he or she “saved the day” by picking up the baby’s pacifier and giving it back. Make sure they see how valuable they still are to your family.
4Expect regression, grief and testing behaviors
It would be nice if small children could just be thrilled there’s a new baby in the home. Some are, but, the majority of little ones are going to have negative reactions, test their parents, and act out.
They are grieving the loss of their role in the home and the family they have known all of their life. Allow them to get through these emotions in their own time but encourage them to see their new role as equally important to their past role.
This is a biggie. Small children and toddlers may become aggressive with newborn babies. They may not mean to truly hurt the baby or be too rough but they might not understand how fragile it is. In other cases, they may intentionally try to hurt the baby out of spite.
Although you don’t want to think that your older child would hurt your younger child, this is a possibility you need to be prepared for. You should always supervise when they’re together, certainly in the beginning as you all adjust to life with a new baby.
With all of that said, the truth is that there is a strong bond between most siblings and this grows over time. There will be many more years and plenty of ages and stages. Your children will not always be this small and this jealousy will certainly pass.