4 Tips to Get Siblings to Love Each Other
One of the biggest challenges to having a second or any additional babies is the concern of the effect on the older child. We’ve all seen or experienced for ourselves the uncomfortable situation when a 2 or 3 year old has meltdowns over the new baby. How can this be avoided or minimized?
There are four things that I found very helpful. I have five children. My last two were twins. When they were born I had a precocious 4 ½ year old daughter and a quieter, sweet 2 ½ year daughter. My main concern was for the 2 ½ year old. How was she going to “survive” being sandwiched between a very vivacious older sister and boy/girl twins? (My eldest was 11 and onto bigger and better things!)
Four things worked wonders for the adjustment of the older girls and especially for the 2 year old.
The power of eye contact is underestimated in transmitting information to your kids without saying a word. The reason any older sibling has a hard time adjusting to a new baby is not jealousy necessarily. It may be because they don’t know how they fit in anymore. The adjustment to a new baby is usually hardest when the older child is between 2 ½ and 3 ½ years old. Why is that? It’s because they are very smart and aware at this age but they don’t understand and often can’t verbalize the chaos this new change brings to their little world. A child under two isn’t as aware. An 18 month old loves everybody and won’t remember life without this baby. Not so for the 2½ year old. They know this baby changes their world but they don’t know what to do about it. Eye contact tells your two-year old that her place with you is the same. That no matter who is around, you and her relationship is intact. So when your older child talks to you, look her in the eyes. Don’t answer looking distracted, away from her. When you look her in the eyes it tells her on a sub-conscious level that you are still there for her, that she still matters to you.
Talking is often under-utilized by parents. If our young ones are not too verbal, we often forget that they understand EVERYTHING. If you take the time to talk to the older sibling, explaining what and why you are doing things, this can go a long way to helping to keep your child calm and confident. One thing that is really helpful to talk about is how we care for “our” baby. When you’re changing the baby or giving a bath remind your older one that when he was a baby he liked when mommy (and/or Daddy) did “______________” . You can make it up if you can’t think of anything. “Oh when you were a baby, you loved when mommy tickled your little feet” or “when you were a baby, you loved when we sang to you”. By doing this, you are reminding him that you took care of him just as you are taking care of this baby. This is also a good time to say things like “when you were a baby, we made sure we kept you safe. We wouldn’t let anyone hurt you. We made sure everyone was gentle with you”. You give him the message that, you protected him and loved him the same way as you are caring for this baby and it’s “our” job to protect this new baby. Then when or if your 2 year old is a little rough with the baby you can remind him why what he is doing is not okay, that he’s being too rough and he will accept it easier because you are protecting the baby not that you are rejecting him.
In front of your older one, say to your husband or other adult in the room -even if it’s just for the effect – “Can you take the baby? I want to play with __________.” When you do this and they hear it, it again reinforces that their place with you is the same, that you are there for them too, and that they are important to you and remain so. It’s a very powerful message that you and your husband/wife can give to the kids. When you take the time to say it out loud, when you make some special time for them, it calms down the anxiety of “where do I fit in?” And remember it’s not really about endless amounts of time, it’s that they hear that you want to spend time with them and that you are making time for them.
Remember that touch leads to love and bonding. Let your children touch the baby. Holding, stroking, helping with the bath allows for touch and leads to bonding. Encourage them to look the baby in the eyes. Once that connection is made in a meaningful way, they will fall in love with their sibling and the stress of the new baby will ease and any meltdowns or tantrums will lessen or be avoided completely!
About Susan Shepard Keeney
I am the owner/partner of MothersCare Doula Services in CT. I am a Postpartum doula and my business partner, Sheila Marley is a Labor doula. MothersCare places both Labor and Postpartum doulas with CT Families. I am the mom of five beautiful children, one set of twins. The best quote for me as a young mother and the catalyst for MothersCare is “It’s not weakness to know you need help, it’s wisdom.”