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How To Prevent Your Toddler From Being Jealous Of A New Sibling
Posted by Dr. Ben Kim
Jealousy. Nowhere is this emotion 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-5-year-old son about to smother his infant sister's (my wife) face with a pillow. In the same breath of laughter, she went on to tell of another time when she was nursing her youngest, when 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.
In hearing these stories and witnessing firsthand the natural tendency of many toddlers to feel resentful of their new younger siblings, my wife and I began discussing measures that we could proactively take to help ease the natural pangs of envy that our son will probably feel when we welcome another baby into our growing family.
As "coincidences" go, just as we began thinking about this issue a few months ago, we were really happy to have some old friends from New Zealand visit us. Our friends have four children - two daughters and two sons - and it was our first opportunity to spend time with their whole family. Margaret and I were blown away by the pleasantness and genuineness of their two teenage daughters, and simply dumbfounded by the co-operative and kind spirits of their three-year and six-month old sons. When Michelle, the queen bee of this beautiful family, put their youngest in our crib and he fell into an almost instant slumber for his mid-afternoon nap, I stood in silent amusement, watching Margaret look on in stunned amazement; let's just say that putting our toddler down for a nap has never been a restful experience for either of us.
Being firm believers in learning from people who walk their talk, Margaret wrote to our friends after they returned to New Zealand and tactfully begged them to share how they had raised their children to be tender and gentle with one another, particularly as toddlers.
Our friends' reply was so thoughtful and full of excellent suggestions that I asked them for permission to share them on our blog. So with their gracious consent, what follows are a number of ways to prepare a toddler to accept a new baby with a loving and co-operative spirit rather than with a spirit of jealousy. I trust that these suggestions will be helpful to many parents and their children.
Regarding your question regarding when to tell your son that a baby is coming, I think our son found out rather early because the girls knew quite soon because of my physical symptoms (nausea, etc), and would talk about the pregnancy in front of him.
However, it was probably brought home to him more when the midwife would come to visit from about 18 weeks. He would get a little upset at her examining Mummy and doing the Doppler testing, so we would then talk to him about how she was helping Mummy take care of the baby in my tummy.
We didn't really pound him with information initially, but as the pregnancy progressed he would hug my belly and say he was hugging the baby and I would encourage him to talk to his baby brother (using his name) once we had found out the gender and decided on a name (not a good idea if you are unsure or might change names, I guess!).
I did learn from some reading I did at the time not to do the following:
Do not tell the older child that you love him so much that you've decided to have another (this is likened to a husband telling a wife that he loves her so much he's decided to get another one!).
Do not tell the older child that he will have a baby sister/brother to play with. Let's face it - its going to be a long time before that happens and they generally get disappointed pretty quickly that this baby isn't as active as promised. I remember my oldest daughter complaining that her baby sister just "sleeps and cries" and everyone had told her how lucky she was going to be to have a new playmate.
Do not leave changes to your son's routine until the baby comes, or even close to arrival or he may associate new baby with the new rules! My suggestion would be that if you're going to tackle any sleeping or eating issues, do them asap so he doesn't think it's all the new baby's fault and harbour resentment.
And here are things that I learned to do:
Do tell the older child that the baby will cry (and sleep) A LOT (it will seem a lot to your son even if it isn't) and that it's okay, this is just the baby's way of talking. If you see a baby crying when you're out shopping for example, talk about it with your son. "Maybe that baby is hungry - our baby will cry like that sometimes.." etc.
Do borrow a baby for an hour or so close to delivery date (several times if possible) and send its mother/father away so you can sit with it just you, your son and Ben and talk about it to him. What it does, how it eats, that it's okay that it cries, that you're going to have one of these come live in your house soon, etc. Also involve him in getting the nursery ready, etc.
Do teach your son about how to be "gentle." We would use the word spoken softly and gently in our son's ear while we stroked his cheek to show him what it meant and it was quickly added to his repertoire. It is a VERY useful word - you can urge him to be gentle with toys, animals, yourselves and eventually the new baby. A friend of mine who was a pastor's wife taught me that little trick when my oldest daughter was small and I swear it was the word I used most with each of the kids in their first two years of life. You'll be amazed how versatile it is!
Also, I know this is a way off yet, but I encouraged our son to "help" me carry the baby from the bassinet to the couch for feeding. He would cradle him in his arms while I took our youngest's weight and we would walk (somewhat awkwardly) wherever we were going. He thought he was being ever so helpful. If you keep telling your son what a great help he is, he will shine with pride, so have him retrieve diapers, wipes, anything that you need and he can safely carry. He will think he is such a big boy.
Also, try not to "freak out" (for want of a better phrase) when he goes near the new baby and is a little bit rough - I don't assume that you will "freak out," I have just seen a lot of people do this. In wanting to protect the younger child parents can tend to alienate the older one, who really doesn't have bad intentions, just a lack of co-ordination or knowledge of what is appropriate. Instead, use each occasion to teach.
There are also those age-old rules about Mum not holding baby the first time that the older child meets him/her so he doesn't feel deposed, and the newborn bringing a special present with it for the older baby, but I'm sure you've heard those ones already or will, very soon!
If you are a parent of more than one child and have any additional suggestions on how to prepare one's toddler for the arrival of a new baby, please feel free to use the comments section below to share your thoughts with our readers. Thank you very much!
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