An Angry Toddler And A Newborn Can Be A Tough Mix
My daughter, age two, is constantly throwing toys and books at our newborn. I never leave them alone together, but she's aggressive even when I'm holding the baby. What can I do?
Elizabeth Pantley answers:
Very often, new parents don't think about how the new baby will affect the life of their firstborn until they bring the baby home and discover that their older child isn't very loving with the baby -- or even worse -- doesn't want the baby in the house at all! There is no guarantee that you can remove all sibling jealousy; your newborn will require much attention, which is bound to make your firstborn at least a little uncomfortable. Here are a few things to help you encourage the bonding process between your children:
- Your first goal is to protect the baby. Your second is to teach your older child how to interact with her new sibling properly. You can teach your toddler how to play with the baby in the same way you teach her anything else. Talk to her, demonstrate, guide and encourage. Until you feel confident that you've achieved your second goal, however, you are right not to leave the children alone together. No, it isn't convenient. But it is necessary, maybe even critical.
- Take a deep breath and stay calm. The more peaceful you are about welcoming your new baby into the family, the better your older child will accept the little newcomer.
- Every time you see your daughter purposely act in a rough way with the baby, act quickly. You might announce firmly, "No hitting. That hurts the baby." Place her in a time-out chair with the statement, "You can get up when you can use your hands in the right way." Allow her to get right up if she wants -- as long as she is careful and gentle with the baby. This isn't punishment, after all. It's just helping her learn that rough actions aren't going to be permitted.
- Avoid using "the baby" as the reason for everything, as in, "Don't play the piano. The baby's sleeping." "Don't touch that. It's for the baby." "I can't play with you now. I have to bathe the baby." Find other words, such as, "My hands are busy right now." Or use distraction: "Here! Look at this toy!"
- Encourage your child to be helpful, which will enhance the "big sister" role. Ask her to "help" you carry the diapers, put on the baby's socks or powder the little bottom, commenting on how lucky the baby is to have such a wonderful big sister. Lots of praise and encouragement will keep your older child feeling special and useful.
- Acknowledge your child's feelings about this life-changing event. Try to put her emotions into words, such as, "I know it's hard to wait while Mommy changes the baby. You're doing a good job of waiting." This will help her sort out her feelings and let her know that you understand.
- Make breastfeeding time special for your older child, too. You might use this as storytime. Or perhaps you have a special box of toys that you bring out whenever you sit down to nurse the baby. Considering how many nursing sessions you'll have, setting a pleasant tone for these moments can be helpful.
- Give your older child some special one-on-one time. You don't have to plan major outings to the circus right now, but some frequent playtime together can help your child understand that she still holds an important place in your day.
- Provide some extra cuddles and hugs right now. Let your child know how very special she is to you. Bring out baby pictures of the big sister and tell her stories about the days when she was a newborn baby.
- Enjoy. This is an incredibly special time for all of you. You've not only brought a new baby into your life -- you've given your children an opportunity for a very special lifelong friendship.