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Ways To Cope With Sibling Rivalry

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Avoid Sibling Rivalry: Help Your Toddler Adjust To The New Baby

While a new baby in the family can be a big adjustment for the entire family, the firstborn child can sometimes feel like their entire world has come crashing down around them, leading to behaviour commonly referred to as sibling rivalry. Whether they love them to pieces instantly or take a while to warm up to their new sibling, the introduction of a new baby can be traumatic on many different levels for a toddler. The firstborn child suddenly shifts from having the undivided attention of the two most important people in their life to ‘having to wait’ for attention and having to ‘share’ everything that’s important to them in their little world. An older sibling may display jealously of the new addition by acting out in order to ‘steal back’ their parent’s attention.

While it is completely normal for toddlers to react this way, there are ways to help your toddler prepare for the arrival of the new bundle of joy. By preparing well in advance and coaching your firstborn child through the process, the entire family will benefit from a smoother transition process and sibling rivalry can be kept to a minimum.


    Talk To Your Toddler

    Talk realistically with your toddler, at a level they can understand, about what having a new brother or sister in the house will be like. Make sure you explain the ‘not so nice’ parts as well as the good parts. For example, don’t tell the toddler that soon they will have a new friend to play with. A new baby is often more boring and annoying than fun for a toddler. It is best to focus on the importance of the toddlers role as a big brother or sister, explaining to them that sometimes the baby will cry and might need extra attention from you.

    Read To Your Toddler

    There are many books available on the market that can help your toddler understand what it will be like to have a baby brother or sister. This may also bring up other issues that you hadn’t thought about previously.

    Role Play

    Using a doll to role-play what it will be like when the new baby comes is also a great way to prepare your toddler for what lies ahead. The same doll can also come in handy once the baby arrives: your toddler can feed, change and settle the baby doll while you are tending to their sibling.

    Make Your Toddler Feel Included

    Include your toddler in some of the decision making processes before the baby arrives. Allow them to help you get the room ready by putting clothes and nappies in their place, drawing a picture for the baby’s room and even choosing a special ‘coming home’ outfit for their new baby sibling.


    The First Meeting

    You may have spent time organising a gift for your toddler to bring in to welcome their new sibling, but consider having a gift ready for the new baby to give their big brother or sister. If you feel comfortable, you may also like to request that friends and family buy a gift for your toddler to congratulate them on becoming a big brother or sister.

    Visitor Time

    At first it might be an idea to plan your toddlers visits outside of ‘feeding time’ so you can have a relative or friend tend to the baby while you spend time cuddling your first born.


    Mummy’s Little Helper

    Give your first born little jobs that help you and reinforce their feelings that they are an important member of the family. Ask them to fetch you a nappy or pick out the baby’s clothes for the day.

    Stress Less

    Try to avoid big changes that might increase your toddlers stress levels. If you haven’t been able to tackle toilet training or transitioning into the ‘big bed’ before the arrival of their sibling, leave it until things settle a little.

    Maintain One-On-One Time

    Maintain or even increase the one-on-one time your toddler gets with each parent. One parent might be able to settle the baby while the other reads a book to the toddler. If you get a chance to pop out to the shops quickly while someone else is minding the new baby, take your toddler with you as an ‘outing’ for the two of you.

    Don’t Blame The Baby

    If you are feeling too tired to play with your toddler, avoid blaming the baby for keeping you up all night, as this will only lead to further resentment. If your toddler is interfering with the baby’s sleep or play time, try taking an approach that makes the toddler feel important. For example, if the toddler is crowding the baby, say something like “Why don’t you play with your cars up on the table so the baby can’t annoy you?.

Expect Some Sibling Rivalry

Regardless of how much you prepare your toddler for the arrival of the new baby, remember that when a family gains an additional child, there is also sacrifice and loss experienced by the other members of the family. You first born will experience the loss of alone time with other family members and possible the loss of certain belongings (like that annoying noisy toy that might wake the baby). Your child will not know how to express these feelings of grief and jealousy, but often it will be seen as aggression toward the new baby or inappropriate behaviour such as throwing tantrums, crying, withdrawing from interaction or being destructive. This is the child’s way of expressive their feelings in the only way they know how. This also the toddler’s way of getting attention, testing the boundaries and making sure their parents still love them.

By maintaining the same boundaries that were in place before the arrival of the new baby, your toddler is likely to feel safer and happier. If your toddler is displaying signs of jealousy or grief, follow the guidelines above to reassure your first born that they are a loved and integral member of the family.


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