I recently had a baby—three boys now in my crew. We were so happy for this new addition, and the older boys (ages three and five) seemed very excited to welcome their little brother. When they came to the hospital to meet him and upon returning home, there was an abundance of kisses, hugs, help, and baby talk. We were living the dream!
But amidst the pure bliss, there were also undertones of passive-aggressive jealousy. This usually took the form of instant mood shifts and pouting over what seemed to be nothing. Because their attitude towards the baby appeared positive most of the time, I didn’t think that this behavior was linked to his presence. But I quickly realized it was.
One day I asked my five-year-old why he was angrier with me lately and quicker to throw a fit. He thought for a while and said, “You are always feeding the baby, and he always needs something when I need something.” Ah-ha! I was never more glad for an honest response. Usually when I ask my children why they are doing something, the answer is, “I don’t know.”
As much as his answer pained me, I was glad to have something tangible to work with. In that moment I realized that yes, the baby needed me, but so did my five-year-old. He noticed when he was being put on the back burner. I decided right then to make some changes in order to be able to tend to my infant, and also insure my older kids knew mom was there for them.
I asked my son how he thought we should deal with this problem. So many times as moms we may try to solve the problem with our own ideas, but if it is our child having the issue, who better to work with to come up with a solution than them! This conversation alone helped our relationship immediately: he was validated. He knew I saw, heard, and cared about him.
I was so impressed by his ideas. First, he said that it would mean a lot if we had more one-on-one time when I wasn’t with the baby. I was familiar with Amy McCready’s “Mind, Body, Soul Time” parenting technique as outlined in her article “How as Little as 20 Minutes a Day Can Change Your Whole Year!” But with the new baby I had let that advice fall by the wayside. The idea is that spending just ten minutes of child-directed one-on-one time with your child will yield dramatic behavioral improvements.
I put this into practice immediately, and within one day I noticed remarkable changes in his behavior. He had less demands of me while I tended to the baby and his overall demeanor was happier. When we played what he wanted to play for his special time, he was on cloud nine! We didn’t argue and there was no pouting because his needs were being met. Spending daily one-on-one quality time was a very small time investment for a very large payout.
He also requested that I ask the boys if there was anything they needed before I started feeding the baby. That way they would be totally set for the next 20–30 minutes (and I could nurse in peace!). It was a win-win. Whether it was getting them a snack or helping complete a Lego creation, the small act of checking in with them demonstrated a sense of compassion and care that I had previously neglected.
We also decided it would be good for them to know what was going to happen after I was finished with the baby. If the boys had something to look forward to and they knew that leaving mom alone and playing nicely would mean something positive at the conclusion, then they were more willing to let me be and will provide baby feeding products. For example, I could say, “When I’m done feeding the baby, I would love to see your Lego creations. Could you build something while I’m gone, and when I come back you can show me what you built?” Or “When the baby is done eating we can go to the park!” An incentive to leave mom alone works wonders.
Sibling rivalry or jealousy does not always manifest itself in the form of aggression or anger towards the baby (or another sibling of any age). It can look very different depending upon the child. What is universal is a child’s need to feel seen, heard, and validated. When we are deliberate about how we show love and attention to our children, especially during a time of change, the whole family can benefit from spending quality time and having honest conversations in order to meet everyone’s needs.
QUESTION: How do you make the older siblings feel important when a new baby is brought into the mix? Are there other big changes coming to your family that might present behavior challenges for your children?
CHALLENGE: Try spending 10 minutes of child-directed one-on-one time with your child and see if you notice a difference in their behavior or your relationship.
Edited by Dawn Wessman and Becky Fawcett.
Post images provided by the author; feature image from Shutterstock with graphics by Julie Finlayson.