Having a new baby is a stressful experience for the existing child. He is going to feel jealous and left out at first. He may even regress to babyhood in an attempt to get your attention. He may try and hurt the new baby or leave her outside and ‘forget’ her.
Accept that your child is going to feel supplanted and whatever you do he is going to mind. Concentrate on increasing his ability to cope with the stress of the new baby.
Sibling rivalry will exist in some form or another in all families at all ages. However the jealousy of the young child at the fuss given to a new baby is not an indication of the future unless you, the parent, mishandles the situation.
Before the baby comes
- Any major changes in his schedule that have to be made well before the advent of the new baby. Don’t suddenly banish him from your bed or stop breast feeding him (if you have been doing so up to now).
- If he talks at all, he almost certainly understands far more. So talk to him about the baby as much as possible.
- Tell your child yourself about the new baby before someone else lets it out.
- Don’t tell him straight out – start gradually talking about having a brother or a sister and families etc. before dropping the bombshell.
- Explain to him that you will be going away to the hospital for some time and reassure him that you will come back to him.
- Make special arrangements for him for when you are in hospital and ensure that beloved routines are known to those looking after him at that time.
- Involve him before the actual birth – let him feel the baby move, encourage him to and talk to her.
- Say goodbye to the child before going to hospital even if you have to wake him to do so.
When the new baby comes
- Ensure that he is able to visit you when you are in the hospital. Most hospitals don’t allow children to visit but make an exception for an older sibling. Make sure that when he comes to visit you, you are not holding the new baby or are otherwise occupied with her. Pay special attention to your older child and ask him about his day just as you used to before the baby’s arrival.
- Expect and accept the jealousy.
- Foresee the things that will hurt him the most and avoid them as far as possible.
- Make sure his life is going well.
- After the birth, try not to breastfeed in front of him for a few days.
- Try and spend special time with him alone.
- Ask for and accept any help he is willing to give.
- Understand if he behaves in a babyish manner for a bit and don’t tell him to act his age or be grown up.
- Give him a few perks for being the oldest.
- Watch carefully to prevent any harm to the baby from the older child.
- Make him believe that the baby likes him a great deal.
- Remember to praise the older child when visitors make a fuss about the baby.
- Make him feel important by asking his opinions on the new baby’s behaviour.
As the children grow, the rivalry will continue to exist in some form or the other. To an extent it makes for healthy competition and children learn from clashing with their siblings how to be both cooperative and assertive outside the home. However, when taken to an extreme it is unhealthy and sometimes dangerous.
With older children
- Never compare children.
- Teach the younger ones to treat the older one with a degree of respect and the older one to look after his younger siblings.
- Spend special time with each child so that they don’t have to compete for your time.
- Never appear amused or flattered by your children’s competition for your attention.
- Make an effort to avoid favouritism.
- Don’t take sides in a fight. Dole out punishment equally.
- Praise cooperative play.
- Reward sharing behaviour.
- Encourage individual interests.
- Encourage each child to develop his own special talents.
- Ignore tale carrying.
- Encourage family bonding and communication, through setting aside some special time for family activities such as reading together. Meals should be a family affair with lots of conversation.
- Watch out for domination or bullying on the part of any one child.
- Set an example of tolerance, good humour and lots of love.
- Have at least one family ritual or event that is special to your family alone.
- Don’t encourage too much time spent at friend’s homes rather than your own.
- Read stories or allow children to watch shows where families get along rather than the opposite.
- Stress the virtues of loyalty and caring for others.
Make it clear to the children that the happiness of the family is not distinct from their individual happiness.