There's a New Kid in Town
Although jealousy between siblings is not uncommon, if you're the parent of a jealous older child you may feel clueless as to how to best manage the situation. You’ll probably receive your fair share of unsolicited advice from people who feel they know best, but keep in mind that each family is different and each child is unique in how they may deal with jealousy over a new baby brother or sister. Do yourself (and the rest of your family) a favor and ignore the “armchair therapist” advice. What follows are a few solid, time-tested tips and some common-sense advice to help siblings coexist in a happy home.
Above all else is communication; you need to talk with your older child about the fact that a new baby will be arriving. Put yourself in the older child's shoes, especially if they are a fair bit older than the baby. If you’re having your second child, your first-born has been the sole recipient of your love and attention for as long as they can remember, and the center of their world has been Mom and Dad for a very long time. A bit of competition between siblings is normal; however, once the baby arrives, the older child should not feel like they have to compete for attention. If parents allow ongoing competition for attention or time, it is likely to become an unhealthy environment, as well as an unhealthy relationship. So communication with your child, regardless of their age, from the time you become pregnant is crucial.
What follows are a few thing that you can do to encourage healthy sibling relationships.
- Talk about your older child's new role as big brother or sister (leader, teacher, etc.) while you are pregnant.
- Talk about the advantage of your baby having a big brother or sister and how important they’ll be to their new baby brother or sister.
- Let your older child help prepare for the arrival of the baby.
- Make schedule changes for your older child that will be in effect when the baby arrives, such as an earlier bath time or dinner time. Doing this ahead of time will insure the older child doesn't blame the baby for the new way of doing things.
- Have your older child be the first to be introduced to their new sibling, shortly after birth, and let them choose what outfit the baby will wear to go home.
And some things to expect from your older child…
- Expect grumpiness or clinginess in the first few weeks of the baby's life. This is a big change for your older child and no matter how diligent your efforts have been to prepare your older child, their natural reaction will be one of fear that they’ll be forgotten.
- Praise your older child when they do positive things, related or unrelated to the baby. For example, if your older child prepares a bottle for the baby, praise the child. If the child goes ahead and does homework without being told, praise the child. Praise, praise, praise, whenever the older child shows growth and understanding.
- Ignore tantrums to show your older child that acting out is not appropriate. Divert your child into something else, whether it is an activity the child likes, or humor on your part. This should lessen the number, as well as the length, of tantrums.
Now, the hard part - especially if your older child is several years older than your baby. Offer equal attention to both children. Ask your friends and relatives to remember your older child first when they enter your home to meet the new baby. Be sure that you and your spouse give your older child one-on-one time as well. This will lessen the thoughts that the older child is no longer special to you. Allow your older child to participate in caring for the baby by choosing a task that is age appropriate. Beware, your older child is not a parent, and you should never treat that child as such.
If all else has fails, have a heart to heart with your older child. Jealousy is probably the result of your older child fearing replacement in your life. Do not tell your child things like, "That's ridiculous" or "You are being silly!" Instead, tell your child that the feelings are okay, but they need to be expressed in the correct way; and always reiterate how important they are to you AND the growing family, and how much you love them.
Many times, parents are overwhelmed with trying to deal with the jealousy in their households. When your older child is jealous of the younger child and nothing seems to make the older child feel secure, jealousy can affect relationships, as well as the child's self-image. Extreme cases are when arguing, acting out and physical fighting occur, which oftentimes causes stress in the entire household.
If your family is in upheaval as the result of one child being jealous of the other and you feel like you’ve tried everything to stop it but aren’t’ getting anywhere, consider talking with a professional. It may be helpful for parents to attend counseling, and then to bring the children with them to counseling once the problems are known. There is no need to be embarrassed or ashamed, and this is not a reflection of your parenting methods or style – it is a healthy choice. Contact the Orange County Relationship Center today at 949-220-3211 to make an appointment for you and your family members, or make your appointment using our online tool. Speaking to a professional may be just what is needed to reestablish peace, love, and understanding in your home.