Clinical psychologist Lynne Hipkin explains that sibling jealousy is incredibly common, and can be more severe the larger the age gap between the children. “To your older child, it’s an overwhelming and confusing feeling that requires extra help and understanding.”
Toddlers may look forward to what they have been told is a “wonderful new baby brother/sister” and then realise that the little bundle, when it comes, is helpless — and not that much fun. Your toddler can’t really play with the new baby and it’s likely your newborn needs feeding, cuddling and diapers, and even when you are free, you’re probably tired… and then the baby wakes up again and screams for your attention.
“Similarly, visitors come round and spend time admiring the baby — rather than her big brother. Familiar routines suddenly change. Games and special times are shortened and it can seem as though there’s just not enough love to go around,” says Hipkin.
Your older child needs reassurance about his place in the family, the love he can expect, and the reliability of time and attention from you. Instead of letting him feel that he must fight for this reassurance, build one-on-one time into his daily routine, ensure he gets daily extra cuddles and remember to praise all positive behaviour, particularly towards the new baby. Stop any aggressive behaviour quickly, but don’t shout — try to show your toddler alternative ways to express his feelings.
Says Hipkin, “It might also be helpful to voice his frustrations to him without blame, for instance, ‘I know you get cross when your brother has mummy’s cuddles, but I’ve got plenty of cuddles for both of you!’”
Try not to take sides or show disappointment. Let him snuggle up when you are with the baby, and help you with simple chores. He will eventually realise that he is still special and that his little sister is a fun addition to your family.
As your kids grow older, here are four tips on settling things:
1. Hold kids responsible for their behaviour
Hold all your children equally accountable. Set house rules and make it clear to your children that if quarrels or fights break out, everybody will have to go to bed an hour early/suffer punishment. It doesn’t matter whose fault it is or who started the fight, it takes two hands to clap — and the fight has to stop now. This will encourage your kids to focus on ensuring that they resolve issues amicably rather than push the blame.
2. Be the moderator
Set aside a time each night for your children to air their grievances to you about what is actually bothering them. As a moderator, assure all your children that you are a neutral party and work towards constructive steps to address the issues your children feel. Make sure that each person gets equal time to talk — and insist that everyone else listens to the speaker.
3. Respect for others
It’s important to cultivate a sense of respect in children — an important trait that they will take with them to adulthood. Make a house rule that no disrespectful verbal words or physical gestures will be tolerated. Stress the need to ask before taking another sibling’s stuff, ensure that children return things to the proper owners at the agreed time period, in good shape.
4. Develop friendships
It’s easier to get your children to end sibling rivalry when they see each other as friends rather than enemies. You could ask your children to list what they appreciate about their siblings, regularly. Also, get your children to serve each other instead (and make sure everyone takes a turn).
5. Sniff the baby (we’re serious)
Get your older children to sniff the top of the new baby’s head, as newborns release special chemicals called pheremones, from that spot. Regular sniffing can calm down aggressive instincts against the newcomer, and encourage the older child to be protective of the baby, according to Words That Work, by Alice Eaton.
Mums share how they introduced the new baby...
“I used toy kangaroos to help my son understand what was going on. His favourite bit was when I took the baby kangaroo out of its mummy’s tummy and the medium-sized kangaroo was allowed to take it for a ride in the truck.”
Cathy, 36, mum to Finn, 4 months, and Bryan, 3.
“My son had to cope with the arrival of twins. I was in such shock myself that I didn’t make a big deal about it, but I did increase his nursery hours three months before my due date. It worked brilliantly because I got extra time with the twins and he didn’t feel excluded.”
Mandy, 28, mum to Sean and Siobhan, 3 months, and Seth, 3.
“I showed Ella pictures of her as a baby. She loved hearing about how she slept, ate and cried, and was then more ready to meet her brother.”
Sally, 31, mum to Christian, 6 weeks, and Ella, 2.
“I asked Aisha to help fetch clothes or wipes while I changed Danyal, then praised her for being mummy’s little helper. We still do this now — it helps her feel involved and has made her very protective over her baby brother. We also spend quality time together baking, watching television or playing while Danyal sleeps, so she knows she’s still special.”
Azizah, 40, mum to Danyal, 11 months, and Aisha, 3.
Photo: ING Images