Has your older child regressed with the arrival of a new baby sibling? Learn what to do when kids regress because of new baby jealousy.
Those two weeks after welcoming my twins home were some of the most challenging times… but not because of the two babies.
As much as we prepared our then-three-year-old son about his two baby brothers, the change still took a toll on him. He didn’t exactly resent, hurt, or speak ill of his brothers.
Instead, he regressed.
The progress he’d made with learning how to manage his emotions flew out the door. He’d throw a fit over every little thing, and communication whittled down to whining. He’d even mimic baby noises as a response to the new babies.
Perhaps you can relate.
Maybe your older child still hasn’t gotten used to her new sibling and wants you to do everything for her. It’s up to you to dress her and help with using the potty every morning, even if you know she can manage on her own.
And if you’re busy with the baby or don’t want to enable these habits further? Then she cries until you’re fed up and finally relent.
What to do about new baby jealousy
As if welcoming a new baby wasn’t challenging enough, dealing with your older child’s behavior can be even worse.
Her behavior is understandable, that’s for sure. If a baby is hard for you, then you can imagine how difficult it is for her. All her life, she had you all to herself. Now, she has a new sibling who needs your attention—and isn’t exactly going anywhere.
She may also not understand that babies need more attention than older kids. She can fetch her own snack while you need to be the one to nurse the baby. And while she can sleep through the night, you’re the one awake all hours rocking him to sleep.
Still, the regression is taking a toll on your family. It’s frustrating doing something for your older child you know she can do just to avoid another outburst. How can you address her behavior while being sensitive to her emotions?
1. Be firm
As understanding as you should be to your child’s regression, you also need to balance it with setting expectations, regardless of a new baby.
She may whine or get upset, but you need to believe and expect that she should do what she can normally do. Save your attention for the times when she does need your help, such as doing a new task you know she can’t do on her own. For everything else, be firm about allowing her to do it herself.
You don’t need to be “tough” or make it a battle.
You might say, “I know it doesn’t feel good sometimes with all these changes. But I need you to be able to get your own bowl, like you’ve always done. Mama getting the bowl for you won’t make the bad feelings go away. Let’s think of other ways we can make them go away, but for now, I’d like you to get your bowl.”
And if she refuses, you can say, “Looks like you’re not ready to join us for a snack just yet. Let me know you’re ready when you bring your bowl over, and I can fill it with some pretzels.”
Express empathy and almost sadness that she feels the way she does. Avoid conflict, blame, or making it an argument. While you acknowledge the difficulty of having a new baby, you’re also not enabling behavior you don’t want to encourage.
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2. Spend one-on-one time
It seems like the hardest thing to ask of a mom already busy with a new baby, but spending one-on-one time with your older child will help so much. Your time together doesn’t have to be extravagant either—a walk around the block or reading while the baby naps can be all you need.
She’ll relish these blocks of time where she can have you all to herself. Even though you have a new baby, she’ll feel reassured that she still has these pockets of special time with you.
And you can use this time to ask her how you can help her have a good day. You both might come up with ideas like baking banana bread, walking to the park, or starting a new puzzle.
These activities can also teach her that the attention you’ll give isn’t putting her shoes on or walking her to the potty. Nor do you give attention because she’s whining or throwing a tantrum. Instead, you’ll always carve time with her in more enjoyable ways.
3. Ask for your child’s help
Older kids love feeling responsible and mature, especially when we ask them to help with small tasks. You’re also reiterating the many benefits and perks she gets to do as a big kid that her baby sibling still can’t.
You might ask her to fetch a diaper, put things in your bag, or turn off the lights. These little tasks make her feel grown up and part of your team. It’s almost like you rely on her to get through your day.
4. Praise your child when you catch her doing something on her own
As rare as the times may be that your older child won’t do things on her own, you’ll still likely find a few when she does. Praise her every time you catch her doing so.
Maybe she used the potty and washed her hands, all without needing your help—let her know you appreciate her for doing so. That every little bit makes it that much easier on you and the whole family.
Praising her positive behavior is more effective than having to correct inappropriate behavior. Take advantage of all the times—no matter how small or rare—you catch her doing something good.
5. Explain that a new baby doesn’t mean you love your child any less
Your child can regress as a response to changes in her life—in this case, a new baby. She may not like how things seem different and wonders how long this will last. And she may worry whether you still love her, especially with less attention and more misbehavior on her part.
Reassure her that you love her, no matter what. That a new baby doesn’t mean you love her any less, or that any antics she does won’t cause you to withhold your love and attention.
She needs to know you’ll always be there for her, regardless of a new baby or her misbehavior.
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As difficult as it is to deal with new baby jealousy, you can help your older child cope with the situation.
Remind yourself that this is much harder on her than it is on you, yet stay firm with your expectations of her capabilities and duties. Be more empathetic and understanding of her regressions, no matter how frustrating they may be.
Carve regular one-on-one time with her, no matter how small, such as asking her for help. When she does something well, praise and acknowledge her to further encourage the same types of behavior. And always reassure her you love her always, new baby or not.
p.s. Check out Plenty of Love to Go Around by Emma Chichester Clark to help your child tackle feelings of jealousy and the difficulties of sharing:
Get more tips:
- As Frustrating As It Is, Your Child’s Behavior Is Normal
- 4 Ways to Help Your Older Child Handle a New Baby Crying
- “Help! I Can’t Stop Yelling at My Child.”
- Helping Your Child Adjust to a New Baby Is Possible—Here’s How
- Children’s Books about a New Baby
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