Updated: Aug 25, 2019
Sibling rivalry typically begins even before the arrival of the new baby. The prospect of welcoming a younger sibling into the household can be a traumatizing event for an older child. As the family prepares for the arrival of the next child, toddlers might start feeling anxious about the sudden changes. They might be wondering, why is there a new baby bed? Who are the baby clothes for? Why is mummy’s stomach getting bigger? Why is everybody always asking me about becoming a big sister or a big brother? Older children can sense that there is an overall shift of attention from them to this ‘new baby’ people keep talking about.
Just last year my toddler had to cope with welcoming three new baby sisters into our family. If the idea of having triplets came as an utter shock to my husband and I, what more for our 18-month-old toddler? As adults, we tried to deal with all of the extreme changes through self-reflection and conversations. However, we knew that our toddler needed a lot of help, guidance and assurance to cope with the reality of accepting so many new siblings into her life all at once.
As parents, we have a crucial role in helping our children build positive and loving relationships with the new siblings. And the adjustment process should ideally begin as early as pregnancy.
Here are some tips for making this transition a little bit easier on your toddler:
VALIDATE FEELINGS OF INSECURITY AND JEALOUSY
Although joy and happiness accompanies the birth of a new child, it still presents a psychological shock to the family unit. Toddlers can sense attention and resources slowly shifting away from them to the new child and in turn, feel confused, insecure and anxious. People around them might make remarks such as, “Aren’t you excited to be a new brother?” or “How lovely it is to have a baby sister, someone for you to play with!” But for toddlers this marks an end of an era of being the center of attention for the adults in their life.
Parents should have realistic expectations about how their older children will react to the new baby. Even the most enthusiastic and well behaved children are bound to feel insecure. They need time to grieve the loss of their single-child or youngest-child status. Parents should continue to provide comfort to their toddlers and acknowledge that it is normal for them to feel fear and uncertainty over their new sibling. Flesh out negative emotions of frustrations and jealously by saying things like, “I know it is difficult to be a big brother.” Constantly reassure them that you will always love them and support them through this life-changing transition. Should they act out against their new sibling, do not judge their actions. Instead, transform the negative moment into an opportunity to validate and discuss their innermost frustrations.
SCHEDULE ONE-ON-ONE TIME WITH YOUR OLDER CHILD
It is essential to schedule one-on-one time with your toddler before and after the arrival of the new baby. These sessions can be as short as ten to twenty minutes a day, but you should make sure to give them your full attention during those moments. Spending time with your toddler can restore calm and ease during a period of turmoil. Engaging in play can be an effective strategy for reinstating closeness. If your new baby requires attention during one-on-one moments with your other child, calmly explain “I need to help the baby because she is crying, I know it is difficult for you to see me go.” Reassure your child by making plans to spend time with them again when their younger sibling is asleep or when another caregiver is around to help you with the baby.
GET THEM INVOLVED
You could also re-focus your toddler’s energy by asking them to help you care for their new sibling. This gives them an opportunity to explore their independence and feel more involved as a bigger brother or sister. Childen as young as 18 months old can help by bringing a diaper, holding the milk bottle, or shaking a rattle. Older toddlers can sing songs or read to the baby. If your child is not interested in helping, accept it and do not force it. It is okay for them to say ‘no’, it is their way of demonstrating their individuality.
ENFORCE BOUNDARIES AND LIMITS
No matter how tiring it is to cope with a new baby (or babies!) and a jealous older sibling, children need routines and boundaries. Even more so during periods of difficult transitions. Their life has just been disrupted, they feel lost and sad that things are no longer the way they used to be. They need reassurance, certainty and stability. Try your best to maintain the routines you had prior to the baby, this will help them to feel secure again. Teach them how to behave around their new baby sister or brother, especially if they display anger and frustration. Acknowledge their feelings of resentment and remind them that they should not touch their newborn sibling if they feel angry. With a new sibling occupying new spaces in your home, toddlers are uncertain where their limits may lie and they need us adults to guide them and intervene when necessary.
You can help your child with the transition to big brother by supporting his emotions and acknowledging them as often as possible, during pregnancy, and during the early days of welcoming a new baby. This will help him get through the stages of grief, loss, fear and gradually on the path toward acceptance of the new family dynamics, making way for what is hopefully an enduring and loving sibling relationship.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ermita Soenarto is a PhD student and a stay at home mom to four toddlers, three of whom are triplets. She has been looking forward to 2016 because it is the first time in her married life where she is not pregnant or having babies and hopes to finally make progress on her dissertation on the history of family and childhood in the Dutch East Indies. She blogs about parenting multiples and teaching herself to sew at craftyacademic.com.