Whatever happens, there will be a period of adjustment for your oldest child when their baby sibling is born. Here’s how to manage it when they feel left out or jealous.
The arrival of a new brother or sister can be unsettling for a toddler. After all they are used to having your undivided attention.
You might find that your toddler isn't as happy and excited about your new baby as you are. Some find it difficult to adjust while others accept the new arrival easily (NHS, 2018). Here’s how to handle the jealousy…
1. Get your toddler involved
You could ask your toddler to pass you the bottle for a feed. You could see whether they will hold the cotton wool while you change their little brother or sister’s nappies. You could even try to persuade them to entertain their sibling with songs in the back seat if they’re upset in their car seat.
Your toddler will love having tasks and feel much more part of things. You will need to guide them as a child's interpretation of a situation may be inaccurate and you should be aware not to expect too much of them (ROSPA, 2018).
2. Put your toddler first sometimes
No matter how much you would normally go to your newborn first, a few occasions of putting your baby second can work wonders.
Try ‘telling’ the baby they’ll have to wait to get their nappy changed while you get their older sibling’s snack. You could put the baby on the play mat while you play dollhouse with their big brother or sister. Anything that shows them that right now, at this second, they are number one.
3. Acknowledge their point of view
Being ‘in it together’ with the occasional acknowledgement of their views can make a whole world of difference. Acknowledgements like ‘Yeah, babies do cry a lot don’t they?’ or ‘I bet you wish sometimes we could hang out alone’ will let them know you get it.
Parents who develop open, participative communication with their children help their children to manage stress well. That helps them to develop resilience (Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 2007).
4. Be prepared for toddlers hitting or other aggression
Yep, however much you hate it, probably your toddler will at some point turn on their sibling. One study found 46% of children said they had been victims of sibling aggression, while 35.6% admitted they had been aggressive to their siblings (Tippett, 2014).
Toddlers might throw a toy at their sibling, pinch them or hit them. And you’re likely to be tempted to shout at them. The thing is: that was kind of their aim. Instead, give your attention to making sure the baby is ok and then they’ll think that was a waste of time and (hopefully) not bother again.
Positive parenting and good relationships within the family reduce levels of aggression. Yet harsh parenting is associated with increased levels of aggression (Tippett, 2014). You could try to encourage your eldest to talk about any anger or jealousy they feel towards their younger sibling. These are normal emotions and it is better for them to talk about them than to bottle them up (Wallace, 2016).
5. Don’t compare your toddler with your newborn
Asking your older child why they can’t be more like their baby brother or sister is unnecessary and unhelpful. Don’t be tempted – even when you’re tired and stressed out.
6. Stay alert with toddlers for a while when you have a newborn
Much as it would be lovely to be able to leave your children alone together and know they’d be fine, this is the real world. For a while, you’ll have to be close to hand to know that your older child won’t hurt your baby – even accidentally – when you’re not there to monitor.
Children under the age of four are most at risk of an accident at home (Rospa, 2018). Many accidents are caused by horseplay, involving pushing, shoving and wrestling.
Other things to be careful about are heavy objects, such as furniture and televisions, being pushed or pulled over on to younger babies or children. Children might see sets of drawers as ideal climbing frames but they can pull over easily if unsecured. Children can also swallow, inhale or choke on items like small toys, peanuts and marbles (Rospa, 2018).
If your toddler begs to hold his new sibling, sit your toddler on the floor on a soft surface and help them to support the baby.
7. Get help with the baby so you can spend one-on-one time with your older child
Nothing can make your older child feel better about their feelings towards their sibling than hanging out with you and you alone. If you’re breastfeeding and can’t leave your newborn for long, even a quick trip to the park can make them feel they’ve got your undivided attention again.
The quality of the parent–child relationship at home can influence cognitive and socio-emotional outcomes for pre-school children (Department of Education, 2017).
8. Point out how much the baby likes their older sibling
Saying ‘Look how much they love you’ and ‘They won’t stop watching how good you are on your bike’ will make your older child feel like they’re really involved in making their younger sibling happy. Warm, authoritative and responsive parenting helps children to manage stress. By boosting their confidence they will respond better to the change in their lives (JRF, 2007).
9. Keep toddler routines as much as possible
Toddlers are creatures of habit. So if you can sling some clothes on and drag yourself to their usual music group, even in the early weeks, it will make a massive difference to how they feel. After all, this is a huge upheaval in their lives.
Try with the smaller stuff too, like reading them a bedtime story or eating your usual breakfast. Participation in routines like reading or storytelling are associated with higher social and emotional school readiness among preschool-age children (Munzi, 2014). Going to playgroup, visiting friends and telling a bedtime story might be difficult to organise in the first few weeks. But sticking to established routines will help reassure your toddler (NHS, 2018).
10. Remember that it won’t last for ever
When young children are feeling jealous of baby siblings, it can feel like a phase that will never end. But – like them all – it will. And before you know it, they’ll be best of mates (and ganging up on you). Remember too that both your baby and toddler are gaining socially and emotionally by having a sibling (Hughes, 2011).
This page was last reviewed in June 2018
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Make friends with other parents-to-be and new parents in your local area for support and friendship by seeing what NCT activities are happening nearby.
Department of Education. (2017) Study of early education and development (seed): impact study on early education use and child outcomes up to age three. Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uplo… [Accessed 6th December 2018].
Hughes C. (2011) Social Understanding and Social Lives: From Toddlerhood through to the Transition to School. Psychology Press, London.
Joseph Rowntree Foundation. (2007) Parenting and the different ways it can affect children’s lives: research evidence. Available at: https://www.jrf.org.uk/sites/default/files/jrf/migrated/files/2132-parenting-literature-reviews.pdf [Accessed 6th December 2018].
Muñiz EI, Silver EJ, Stein RE. (2014) Family routines and social-emotional school readiness among preschool-age children. J Dev Behav Pediatr. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24509054 [Accessed 6th December 2018].
NHS (2018) Introducing your toddler to a new baby. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/children-and-new-siblings/ [Accessed 6th December 2018].
ROSPA. (2018) Accidents to children. Available at: https://www.rospa.com/home-safety/advice/accidents-to-children/ [Accessed 6th December 2018].
Tippett N, Wolke D. (2014) Aggression between siblings: associations with the home environment and peer bullying. Available at: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1002/ab.21557 [Accessed 6th December 2018].
Wallace M. (2016) The effect of birth order on children. Available at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/how-raise-happy-cooperative-child/201605/the-effect-birth-order-children [Accessed 6th December 2018].