by Christina DiMartino
Parenting children gets even more complicated when a new baby joins a family that already has a toddler. The baby's arrival is a joyous blessing for you and your spouse, but your toddler may view the occasion differently. Stories of toddlers pinching, biting and hitting their infant siblings are common. While sibling jealousy is normal, you can help toddlers prepare for the arrival of new siblings and help them overcome jealousy once the baby is born.
Prevent jealousy beforehand
Dr. Ben Kim, a chiropractor and acupuncturist, says nowhere is the emotion of jealousy more evident than in a toddler who suddenly finds a new baby in the house to gobble up mommy’s and daddy’s attention.
“My mother-in-law once told me about walking into a room to see her then five-year-old son about to smother his infant sister’s (now my wife) face with a pillow,” says Kim. “In the same breath of laughter, she went on to tell of another time when she was nursing her youngest and suddenly her baby screamed in pain. My mother-in-law wheeled around to discover that her son had pinched his baby sister on the arm while he was behind his mother’s back.”
Here is Dr. Kim’s "do and don’t" advice:
Actions louder than words
Child psychologist Kenneth N. Condrell, Ph.D., writes, “And Baby Makes … A Jealous Toddler? Managing Sibling Rivalry When a Newborn Arrives,” for Fisher-Price.com, an information source and retail site.
“One of the toughest tasks parents face is managing sibling rivalry, particularly when the older child is still just a toddler,” says Condrell. “It’s unrealistic to expect a child of two or three to fully understand your explanation of the situation. Instead, you have to show him how much he matters to you."
Adjusting to the new baby
• Before the big event, read stories about babies to your toddler. Hearing about babies and their older siblings helps put your child in a better position to understand the changes she can expect, and will encourage her to open up to you if she feels sad or upset after the baby arrives.
• An involved dad can soothe a toddler’s jealousy. As the birth of the new baby approaches, it’s wise for dad to begin assuming more responsibility for caring, nurturing and just having fun with the older child. This will be soothing for your toddler when baby arrives.
• Extended family members should also make extra efforts. By spending time with relatives, your child will feel like he’s number one again.
• Encourage visitors to pay attention to your toddler. When guests come to meet the new baby, ask them to also fuss over your toddler.
• Verbalize your toddler’s feelings. Put into words what you think she’s feeling but may not be expressing. Acknowledge her feelings, give her a hug and make some plans to have fun.
• Don’t become upset if your toddler regresses. It’s not unusual for a toddler to respond to a new baby by acting like a baby himself. Respond by picking him up and rocking him so he will feel like your baby again.
Pediatrician Henry Bernstein, M.D. says that clearly a major change, such as having a new sibling, can be particularly stressful for kids.
“Know that it is impossible for your older child to continue to get the amount of attention from you and your spouse that they have come to appreciate,” says Bernstein.
“Include him in as many activities as you can. Things as simple as getting the diaper to change the baby will put him in the role of being mommy’s big helper.
“I also suggest that you or your spouse spend ‘special time’ daily with your toddler, whether it’s playing a game, reading a book or running an errand together. Small flurries of attention can make a difference. Be sure not to give in to your toddler automatically. He still needs discipline.”
Read to your toddler:
Christina DiMartino has been a freelance and assignment writer since 1985. She is a researcher, interviewer, writer, editor, and manuscript collaborator with a repertoire of clients from around the world.