Sibling rivalry when a new baby arrives: how to deal with jealousy?
The arrival of a new baby in a family is always a happy event, but it is also a huge adjustment for the older child, who may feel that the new baby is taking over their role in the family, and this can lead to sibling rivalry.
If you haven’t had your baby yet, preparing your child for the arrival of the new baby by telling him that he will soon have a baby brother or sister to play with in some cases make the child look forward to the event with enthusiasm, but may often trigger jealousy right from the early days of your pregnancy, and this may continue into the first few years of life of the newcomer.
The arrival of a new baby in the family may also cause anxiety in the older child: "Mum and Dad's attention will no longer be just for me!"
How should you deal with all this? Let's look at what mothers have told me over the years.
But remember that with a little patience the arrival of a new baby may be a wonderful experience for the whole family!
Sibling’s gender and age
If the older child is a “big” boy or girl, let’s say at least 5 years old, the arrival of a baby brother or sister will certainly be easier, because your child will be more independent and will probably not experience feelings of jealousy towards the new baby, and you can even let the older child get involved in looking after the baby.
With an age difference of this kind, toys and interests will be very different and nothing to squabble over.
In case of different-gender siblings life will be a littler easier since their toys and interests will be almost completely different and they will rarely fight over who owns this or that toy.
But if the age gap is small, feelings of jealousy are often experienced not only for the love and attention of parents, but even for toys and the space siblings are forced to share.
The different phases of jealousy (pregnancy, during and after delivery)
Right from the early days of your pregnancy and throughout the first few years of your new baby’s life you will need to help your older child to adjust to this change as naturally as possible, making him feel loved and unique. So let’s take a look at the steps you can take to help prepare your older child for your new arrival, and the most common reactions of older siblings and how to deal with them.
Preparing your child for the arrival of a baby brother or sister is very important, and you should introduce the inevitable changes gradually explaining them to your child.
Here are some tips to on how prepare your child for the new arrival:
- If your child is under 2/3 years old, wait before telling him. At that age, 9 months is an eternity for a child and such a long wait would be unnerving. So wait until your bump is showing and try explaining to your toddler that there's a sibling on the way by saying something like: the baby is as small as a seed in my tummy, like you once were.
- Most importantly, keep to your daily routine: children, especially toddlers, need to feel secure when such big changes are taking place. So dedicate exactly the same attention to your child and play with him or her as you have always done.
- Involve your child in the preparations, obviously depending on his age. You could ask your child what colour he thinks the baby would prefer his room to be or which clothes to buy; this will make your older child feel important.
- Tell your child that he too was once in Mummy’s tummy, so that your child gets used to the idea of sharing something with the new baby and try to make him understand that there are no differences between him and the unborn child.
Explain what will happen once you go into labour
When you are in hospital, make sure your child stays at home with people he knows and loves, and who give him all the attention he needs.
As soon as the child is born, let your child come to see you in hospital. It’s very important for your child to see the place where his little baby brother or sister was born, so that he is involved in the changes ahead.
In this way he will be more curious than distrustful about this novelty. You can also tell him about what happened when he was born, and that he too was born just a few years before at the same place.
Coming home with the new baby
When you come home with the new baby, you will certainly notice a change in your older child, but don’t worry it’s quite normal!
Try to reassure him by explaining the changes that will take place in the family making him understand that the baby will need special attention just like he did when he was a baby.
Don't compare your children. The classic “Why can't you be more like your sister?” won't help matters, and merely risks making your child feel competitive and jealous.
It is just as important to set the rules of behaviour in the home, for both parents and children.
Don’t treat your children differently, but try give the same love and praise to both (if, for example, you tell your younger child he or she has been good. Do the same with your older child to prevent him from feeling jealous.)
Set the boundaries for toys: which toys belong to each child and which toys belong to both.
Don’t scold your older child when he shows that he is jealous, but try to make him think about what he has done, giving him time to understand that he has no reason to be jealous because you love both your children in exactly the same way.
Don’t punish your child for being jealousy because it is quite natural. Allow your older child to be an active part of the baby’s life and show him how happy you are when he is affectionate and loving. Do try to spend some time alone with your older child on a regular basis, so he doesn’t feel he needs to compete for your attention.
Accept that your older child may be more demanding or act ‘babyishly’, but without exaggerating. Make your child understand that there are boundaries and that the arrival of his baby brother or sister is not an excuse for throwing tantrums whenever he likes.
A book for you
Jealousy between siblings is an incredibly complex topic, with so many different facets that it is impossible to deal with everything in a single article, which is why why we would like to suggest you read the book “Jealousy between siblings. How to help our children to accept the new arrival” by Raffaella Scalisi, that helps mothers deal with the arrival of a second child.