Development FAQ: 24+ months – Sibling Rivalry

My toddler son of 2.5yrs is jealous of his baby sister.

We have a two-and-a-half-year-old boy, and a nine-month-old baby girl. From about two weeks after the baby was born, our little boy has been desperately jealous and won’t allow me to pay any attention to the baby. It’s becoming a real problem and I’m very worried about it. Do you have any advice?

Your son has to realise that his behaviour towards his sister is unacceptable. He needs to know that every time he hurts her, takes her toys away or will not allow her time with you, you will respond by removing him from the room and take him to a place for ‘time-out’. When you tell him that his behaviour is unacceptable, get down to his eye-level and hold his hands so he has to look at you. Use a firm, authoritive voice so he understands that you mean what you say. This does not need to be a shout but it must be firm.

‘Time out’ should be short – about five minutes is long enough – but accept the fact you may have to remove him many, many times to begin with until he realises that you mean what you say. As a nanny I dealt with a two-year-old girl who would push her newly sitting brother over when she thought I was not looking. I would tell her she was not to do this and put her over the stair gate which stood between the playroom and hall. As soon as she had calmed down and agreed to behave, she was allowed back in. We then continued the day without commenting about her behaviour until she realised it was not worth being excluded and stopped. It may not always be convenient to remove your son but you have to be consistent in order for him to get your message.

While you must exclude your son each time he misbehaves, it’s important to continue praising him for everything he does well, even the smallest action, to build up his self-esteem and help him realise you do love him although you do not accept his behaviour towards his sister. Is it possible to include him in small jobs to help you? Can he fetch small items for you, such as nappies and clean clothes? Most children of this age like to feel they are helping. Thank him when he brings you something, but keep the praise short and not over the top. Comment on how helpful he is. Thank him for eating his lunch nicely or playing with his cars for five minutes without demanding attention. All this positive reaction will help you both feel better.

If you feel your son is about to snatch a toy from his sister, step in and ask him to choose her something else to play with so she may give him the one he wants. Sharing is a concept quite hard for small children to comprehend. Point out how many of his toys are too old for his sister, how she cannot build with Duplo yet or make carparks for cars, so she needs toys she can cope with. I have found it easier to have a special bag for the ‘baby’ toys, with the older child’s separated out into several containers, each designated a purpose. Now that your daughter is crawling, she will be able to get into his toys and this can often be a source of frustration for the older sibling. If you have spent half an hour lining up your cars only for your sister to come crawling in and scatter them, you are bound to get cross and possibly lash out. Can you find a place that becomes his safe zone? When I encountered this problem as a nanny, I put my older charge inside a large wooden playpen with her small table and chair. Here she could happily draw, play with Play-Doh or her small play people while her sister could crawl around outside. Respect is a two-way process. You are showing your son that you respect his need for space to play without being interrupted in return for him respecting his sister’s need to crawl around.

Have a look at the social life your son has outside the home. If he doesn’t attend nursery or play group, consider finding him somewhere to go even for just two mornings or afternoons a week. He will learn how to give and take and share amongst his own peer group. Having friends around for play dates also helps.

Time alone with your son is important and I’d advise you to have a regular time each day to devote to him. Small children thrive on routine. As a nanny to two young children, I made the half hour after her baby brother had gone down for his midday nap Henrietta’s special time when we would play a game or do some cooking or craft work together. Then, when she went up for her midday nap, I would catch up on the chores. She grew to love this time and would ask me what we were going to do when I arrived in the morning. It is worth keeping special games and activities especially for this time. If bedtimes are at the same time, try giving your son another ten minutes up after his sister is down. Perhaps he can have time alone with his father at the weekends. It can make him feel that being a big brother has its good side. A lot of parents expect their children to be together all the time but splitting them up can work well. Sometimes you could take him out alone and let your husband have time with his daughter. It is important that she too has some undivided time with you.

Your son will realise that you will not accept certain aspects of his behaviour if you are consistent and firm with him. He will soon come to understand that it is better to behave well and be rewarded with your attention. Jealousy can be a problem for years but it is feeling we all need to learn how to control, and with your help, your son will.

Development FAQ: 24+ months – Sibling Rivalry

My two daughters were born 18 months apart. The youngest has just had her first birthday. Over the past few months I have become increasingly irritated and concerned about our eldest daughter’s rough behaviour to her sister. She still seems unable to see the advantage of having a sister close to her in age even though her sister is now walking and less of a baby. I seem to tell my eldest daughter off constantly but she still continues to behave badly.

On a daily basis she hits or is rough in other ways towards her sister and is constantly taking her toys away. I know I need to be more positive with my approach but how can I do this when she continues to behave in this way. I want her to enjoy having a sibling close to her in age. I was an only child and feel I missed out a great deal with not having this relationship.

Your eldest daughter is still young herself. A child of this age has a very egocentric view of the world, believing it revolves round her and her needs. Your daughter’s rough behaviour is her way of expressing her feelings to this rival who takes some of your attention away from her.

She must be encouraged to realize that hitting and hurting in any way is unacceptable behaviour and will not be tolerated by you. Help her to empathize with her little sister. Sit your elder daughter on your knee and explain how much it upsets you when she makes her baby sister cry. Ask her whether she would like it, if a bigger child hurt her. Explain to your daughter that in future if she is rough to her sister, she will need to have a little “time out” to think about her behaviour. Your own response must be calm and consistent. If your daughter uses this behaviour as an effective means of getting your undivided attention, you might be inadvertently encouraging her. Be prepared to take her to her Bedroom, in order for her to have a few minutes on her own the next time she is unkind to her little sister. This gives you both a couple of minutes to calm down.

If your daughter responds by screaming and crying, be firm and loving but explain that you are not concerned by her noise. Tell her that she may join you when she is feeling good-tempered again.

After your daughter has had a little “time out”, find a new occupation for her that will take her away from her little sister for a short while. Ask her to help you with some easy household task so she learns that although you find her behaviour unacceptable you still love her and like to be with her.

You must also try to judge whether you can avoid these episodes by ensuring that you are giving your daughter plenty of attention at the more testing times of day.

You may have felt that your eldest accepted the birth of her sister with out showing too much jealousy and are surprised that it now has become more apparent. This often happens once the younger child becomes mobile and sleeps less in the day. Dealt with in a sensitive way this behaviour can be stopped and the sisters will learn to get along together as they grow older.

Respecting your eldest’s need to have somewhere to play undisturbed by her younger sister should help. Children of this age rarely play together. It will be at least another year before they are capable of doing so regularly. Your eldest daughter is far more advanced and probably beginning to play in quite an imaginative way with her toys. She might be getting cross and angry when her games are spoilt by her sister’s interference.

If you have a playpen then this makes an ideal “safe” spot for the elder child to play. Inside you can set up a child’s sized table and chair so your daughter can have table toys such as play scenes out without worrying her sister will come and interrupt her game. It is also somewhere she can use crayons and other unsuitable toys if in the hands of her little sister. This can work well as both children’s needs are catered for. Your eldest can play in peace and you can let your youngest roam without worrying that she will upset her sister.

It will help if your eldest daughter is helped to feel that there are advantages to being the eldest. When your youngest was born you probably made sure that her older sister was given special jobs to do such as getting clean nappies for you so she felt included and had responsibilities for her baby sister. This is a good strategy to use in the early months but if you try to make the eldest responsible for her little sister too much she may well rebel.

Although still young herself it is easy to make her bedtime 15-20 minutes later than her sister. Make sure you acknowledge this by telling her she may stay up later as she is older.

If your daughter is still using plastic crockery along with her baby sister find a children’s china set, which you give to her. Tell her that now she is a big girl you know she will look after it and be careful not to drop it on the floor.

Use encouragement and praise in everyday situations. Tell your eldest daughter that you are pleased with the way she uses her fork and spoon, the way she can get her Wellingtons on by herself, any small thing which she manages alone.

It is not always necessary to point out that her baby sister is unable to do a lot of the things she can do. Your eldest may feel she would like to be a baby again at times but with boosting her self esteem she will come to realize that there are advantages to being older.

You could still ask for her help with her little sister. Instead of practical things such as fetching nappies ask her to choose what clothes her sister will wear. It may help if you set out two or three outfits and ask her to choose one as some two and half year olds can have some very strange ideas as to which clothes look good together! If she is interested in helping in this way then encourage it but if she does not want to be involved don’t push her.

In the early months after a sibling’s birth most mothers manage to spend time alone with their eldest whilst the baby sleeps. But now your youngest is a year old she is around so much more in the day. Giving your eldest that one to one time is still important. This may mean splitting the girl’s up at weekends. Your husband could take the younger one out for a walk in her pram whilst you spend time with your eldest daughter. Plan to do a specific activity with her such as baking or a craft session so she really feels that you are making time for her.

Providing you are sympathetic to your older daughter’s needs but do not condone her rough behaviour she will learn, in time to accept that there are a lot of advantages to having a sister near to her in age. You are working towards building a united family where everyone learns to give and take. Both your daughters will learn many of life’s lessons in the loving security of their home, encouraging them both to become friendly children who think about each other as well as themselves.

Development FAQ: 24+ months – Sibling Rivalry

My son of 26 months seems to have adapted to the birth of his brother two months ago. We have involved him as much as possible in caring for the baby, which he enjoys, but sometimes his caring nature is rather over enthusiastic. His gentle stroking has become rougher and showing toys to the baby has begun to involve forcing them into his hand. I am trying to stay positive and suggest ways for him to play with the baby without saying, “No, don’t hurt him” too often. I am afraid he will begin to resent his brother. What is the best approach to this problem?

Now that the excitement surrounding the birth of his brother has worn off, your eldest son may well be feeing a little jealous, realising that the baby does take up a lot of your time. This is a perfectly normal reaction for a two-year-old, but you will need to watch when he is near the baby as he may not be able to stop himself from giving an extra hard squeeze. Your son is still learning to cope with these new feelings about having a brother and all that it involves.

Also, a two-year-old does not realise his own strength when holding or touching a baby and he needs to be shown how to show affection. Find times, such as when you are changing the baby, to suggest that it is his job to rub cream on to the baby’s feet. Guiding his hand while saying, “rub gently” will help him to understand what pleases his brother most.

When you do notice how gentle he is being with his brother, make a point of praising him for it. The positive feedback he receives about what a great brother he is will encourage him to continue in this way. At two years of age, there are bound to be times when he either forgets how to be gentle or cannot resist the temptation to pat just that bit harder to see what effect it has. Keeping a close eye on him, and using distraction if you see him getting too rough, will usually work. If he does make his brother cry, you must point out to him why he is crying. You are right not to want to use “No” too much, so say something such as, “It hurts when you rub too hard – try the gentle way, which I know you are so good at”. There may, however, be times when your son is deliberately being a little rough, and then he must be told to stop. He has to learn that rough behaviour is unacceptable and this may mean using the word “No” with a firm voice.

Tell your older son how much his baby brother likes to watch him play. Place the baby out of reach of his brother, but still within sight of you both. Use a playpen or travel cot with a baby chair or play mat inside, but never leave your two-year-old in the room alone with the baby, even for a second or so. At that age, the temptation to try to reach his brother by climbing over the playpen or throwing a toy in, even if his intention is to give his baby brother something to play with, could end in a nasty accident. The reality of them playing together is not going to happen for many months yet, but it will not take long for your son to realise that his baby brother does enjoy watching him and he may well be one of the first people your baby smiles at with recognition.

Point out the differences between the baby and your elder son and say that he is able to do so much more than his brother. He will come to understand that his baby brother is not the same as him and needs to be treated in a different way. This will take time. It is better not to encourage him to hug or kiss his brother near the face. Instead, tell him that you think his baby brother loves to have his feet kissed, or the back of his head if he is sitting on your knee. Don’t keep insisting that your eldest “gives the baby a kiss” and let him decide for himself when he wants to show affection. You can ask at bedtime if he wants to say “goodnight” to his brother, but allow him to choose whether or not he wants to do this.

Make sure you have as much one to one time as you can with your eldest son each day. Tell him that you still love him just as much, even though you love the baby too, and while the baby is sleeping, enjoy a cuddle or look at a book together. Have some special activities, such as play dough or sticking, which are best kept for these one to one times together, when you can really give him your undivided attention.