Parenting & Families

Toddler Sibling Rivalry

Toddler Jealousy When a Newborn Arrives:

Since the time of Cain and Abel, parents have had to struggle with sibling rivalry. In the not-to-distant past, parents have had to rely on their common sense and familial patterns of behavior to cope. Today we are the beneficiaries of the information age and all those experts. Yet it still comes down, for the most part, to common sense. Every parent knows their own child the best and, by the way, their own family style of discipline. Yet there are some strategies that though simple can make all the difference between a loving sibling relationship and a lifetime of splitting and sibling struggle. Strategies for preventing toddler sibling rivalry have the greatest opportunity for success as they get the entire family off to a good start.

  • Strategy 1 : Prepare your child for the birth of the new baby. Remember that your toddler didn’t ask for a new brother or sister – in fact they had no choice in the matter. So the best thing that you can do to affect a comfort zone for this child is to make him or her an ally. Include them in all preparations such as shopping for the new baby, asking their opinion in the selection process. Furthermore, tell them the sex of the newborn ahead of time if you know it; involve them in the selection of the new baby’s name, as well as all other planning activities, so that they feel in the loop. This invests the toddler in the process and will make him or her feel a part of things. Then they are more likely to feel secure and, therefore, be accepting of the new baby.
  • Strategy 2 : Bring a gift for the toddler from the new baby when the new baby arrives home. This makes the toddler feel special and connected to the newborn and the family unit.
  • Strategy 3: Never leave the toddler alone with the newborn. This is a prescription for trouble. Toddlers have no understanding for abstractions, and can easily take their frustration out on the newborn without understanding the consequences.
  • Strategy 4: Reassure your child that they are loved and that there is a place for them in the family. Displacement is a common feeling for siblings and can be avoided by one-on-one time with mom and dad.
  • Strategy 5: Don’t make your toddler give up their room for the new baby. No matter how you explain it, they will feel less then, and rightfully so. Moreover do not make one sibling share his or her toys with the other. This takes away the newly found sense of control that children experience as they strike out towards self mastery and independence.
  • Strategy 6: Remind your child of his place in the family. Show him family pictures that include him or her, as well as, notes and cards saved from his or her birth. Children love to hear the story of their lives and bedtime is a perfect time for a cuddle and a real life bedtime story.
  • Strategy 7: Reward the toddler for being the big brother or sister by extending their bedtime ten minutes. This and other added privileges give the sibling the feeling that it is good to grow up, and that there are concrete benefits to do so.
  • Strategy 8: Don’t give the older child any added responsibilities associated with the new baby. This baby was not their idea and should not in anyway become their burden.
  • Strategy 9: Never make one child the babysitter for the other. Children learn to quickly resent the newborn if they are made to feel responsible for them.
  • Strategy 10: Space your children, if possible. Three years is good spacing as one child is ready to get off your knee just as a newborn goes on it.
  • Strategy 11: Be fair. Children look at parents with a critical eye and already suspect that you might love the new baby more, As a result, it is important that parents are evenhanded in all things including not always putting the baby’s wants and needs ahead of their older sibling. The toddler’s feelings are very tender in this period of adjustment and it is the wise parent who stays connected to his or her sensitivities and never compares one child with another.
  • Strategy 12: Finally while the entire family is in transition it is important to communicate, and the best way to communicate is to listen. Create a time and a quiet place to have a family conversation at least once a week where you can all take turns as a family talking about your feelings in an empathic way. This will help you to check in on your toddler and see how they are doing…and most importantly how they are feeling. This empathic process should take place in a neutral space, such as a kitchen. And, it requires that each family member listens intently to each other without defense or discounting feelings, while investing each other in the options for problem solving. This is how we make a family that is collaborative, not competitive, and whole rather than split.