Sibling rivalry. The very phrase makes a parent squirm, conjuring up off-putting images of youngsters battling for attention and acceptance. This is particularly troubling when an older child sees his infant sibling as a nuisance who cries all of the time and is the centre of attention. It gets even worse when the older child starts to mutter disheartening phrases like, “I don’t like the baby anymore” and “Can we give back the baby?”
Mine, who know that the new baby comes from God’s pocket sometimes mumble “can we put him back in the pocket please?”
A first-time mother will have enough problems and it’s comforting to know that it will all get easier with practice but there are other issues that come with having a needy and not fully mature young person receiving your (mostly) undivided attention and suddenly getting pushed to the side. Before this new baby came along, your older child had you all to him/herself and was the centre of your affection. So what can you do to defuse sibling rivalry?
Here’s one trick which might actually be a double blessing. Kids love to feel needed, especially when it comes to helping Mom or Dad. Ask your child to hold the baby (with you close by, of course) or help push the buggy. Have your child play with the baby and make her laugh by wiggling a toy in front of her face. This never fails to make him or her feel important and part of the team and it helps them discover grown up feelings of responsibility.
Ok so don’t go overboard with it but encourage the older child to start doing more mature activities with you. Spend plenty of time together doing extra activities like reading a favourite book or baking. Ask your husband or a friend to watch the baby while you are your older child do something special, like go to the park or see a movie.
But far more important than all this is to get the older children involved in the new babies life. Play up the importance of being a “Big brother” or “Big Sister”. Because at this time your older child probably thinks that babies have it easy - they get lots of attention, don’t have to go to school and aren’t told to clean up their room - come to think of it, that is a pretty good life. Anyway, remind them of the advantages to being a “big boy” or a “big girl.” “You can jump high, talk, kick a ball and count to ‘even 20, even’,” you might say admiringly. “The baby still has to learn how to crawl! And when she’s a little older, she’s going to need you to show her how to do big kid things.”
Like the rest of us, children are creatures of habit and find comfort in routines. Keep structure in your older children’s world by continuing to display their school art offerings on the fridge, for instance, and preparing their favourite meals.
While sibling rivalry never disappears completely (just wait until those teenage years!), reminding your children of their unique qualities and special place in the family will make for a more harmonious household.