A reader writes:
I recently gave birth to my second child (the day afterChristmas) and have been struggling with my older daughter’s reactionto her new baby brother. She’s only 18 months and I realize she isacting completely normal considering someone new has “invaded” herspace…however, it’s a bit scary for me these first few weeks…shehas even tried biting his foot twice in my presence while nursing him.She has also attempted to shake his cradle roughly, hit him, andscream. She throws a tantrum often when I nurse in front of her. Wouldyou or any readers have some advice for this new mom of two? Everyonesays it gets better with time, but for now…I could use someencouragement or advice.
Congratulations on the birth of your baby! As you pointed out, your daughter’s reaction isa normal one. But just knowing that it’s normal does not make it anymore fun to deal with. I must admit that I detest the way many popularchildren’s books and TV shows handle the subject of sibling jealousy —they focus too much on the negative with none of the positive, in myopinion. Sibling rivalry is real, though, and I have surely experiencedit. Especially when two babies were close in age.
First of all, don’t blow any of this out of proportion. Keep inmind that your daughter’s behavior, though directed at the baby, is nottruly an expression of hatred for her little brother. It’s anexpression of frustration and insecurity. She is simply too young tounderstand what is going on and too young for you to adequately explainmuch of it to her. She’s just come through Christmas, which can be anoverwhelming whirlwind in itself, and now her whole little world isturned upside down. There’s a baby in her mother’s arms, her routinehas been disrupted, and she can feel the tension (even if the tensionis only joy and excitement) in the house.
Little people grow frustrated easily and they don’t tend to hidetheir feelings. For example, after Daniel was born, 18 month oldRaphael showed very little interest in the baby himself, but he diddevelop some new behaviors toward me.. He kicked me. He bit me.He scratched me. He refused to let me hold him. I understood hisfeelings for what they were. He was frustrated and frightened by thechanges in his life and was taking out that frustration on the oneperson he usually counted on to keep his life in order — me.
In your case, I would advise you to make your daughter’s scheduleand daily routines as much of a priority as possible. If she usuallygets a story in your lap before bed, make sure she still does. If sheusually gets lunch served on a certain plate, make sure she still does.All those little things can reassure her and give her the sense ofsecurity she is craving. I am sure you are already doing this, but doremind her that you love her with plenty of hugs and kisses and timewith both you and your husband. You might also consider reserving aspecial privilege (like playing with a certain toy or reading a certainbook) for times when you are nursing. The privilege serves as adistraction during those times and it becomes a positive connection forher to make with the baby.
I would further suggest that you avoid over-reacting if she doestry to hurt the baby. Even though you might feel like it, do not shout,anything like, “Oh no, the BABY! She hurt the BABY! Don’t you EVER dothat to the BABY!” Doing so will only reinforce her own feelings ofrejection and negativity about her brother. Keep the baby out of herreach as much as possible in order to avoid temptation. If she doesswipe at him, pull him away gently and calmly. Use a quiet voice totell her how much you love her and how much you all love and care for the baby. Even if she doesn’t quite understand the words, your tone and your gentleness will convey the idea.
You can also reinforce the theme of “We take care of the baby” byhaving her help with things like fetching a diaper for you or pickingup his blanket from the floor. Then, when she cooperates, you can gushall kinds of positive reinforcement: “Wow, you are such a good sister! You are so good at helping to take care of the baby! You are getting so big and Mommy is so proud of you!”
One thing I have always done with my children is to talk to the “little baby” aboutthe “big baby.” For example, these days, when I talk to Daniel inRaphael’s presence, I say things like, “You are so lucky to have a bigbrother like Raphael. He is so big and strong and he helps to take careof you.” I may be crazy, but in my mind, this introduces the olderchild to the idea of the kind of positive, protective relationship hecan have with his new sibling. Instead of his self esteem coming from being the baby, his self esteem will come from growing upand taking care of littler ones. Also, in this way, the older childsees the time you spend paying attention to the baby as a positive forhim.
It really does get better with time. This will not lastforever. You might as well begin repeating the mantra now (you may notstop till both your children are moved out and married): “It’s just aphase … This too shall pass … It’s just a phase …” I wish you manyblessings and again, congratulations on your new baby boy!