When Your Child Regresses Because of New Baby Jealousy

Has your older child regressed with the arrival of a new sibling? Learn what to do when kids regress because of new baby jealousy.

New Baby JealousyThose two weeks after welcoming my twins home were some of the most challenging times… but not because I had two babies.

As much as we prepared our 3 year old son about his two baby brothers, the change still took a toll on him. The progress he’d made with managing his emotions flew out the door. He’d throw a fit over every little thing, and whining became the norm. He’d even mimic baby noises to get attention.

As if welcoming a new arrival wasn’t challenging enough, dealing with your older child’s behavior can be even worse.

His behavior was understandable, of course. If a baby is hard for us, then you can imagine how difficult it is for our kids. Thankfully, I survived those first few weeks and was able to turn things around. Here’s how I addressed his behavior while being sensitive to his emotions:

1. Be firm

As understanding as you should be of your child’s regression, you also need to balance it with setting expectations.

She may whine or feel resentful, 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 as you’ve always done. Mommy 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 to 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 parent already busy with a new baby, but spending one-on-one quality time with your older child can help so much. Your time together doesn’t have to be extravagant either—a walk around the neighborhood or reading while the baby naps can be all you need.

He can relish these blocks of time when he can have you all to himself. Even though you have a new baby, he still has these pockets of special time with you.

And you can use this time to ask how you can help him have a good day. You both might come up with ideas like baking banana bread, going to the park, or starting a new puzzle.

These bonding activities can also teach him that the attention you give isn’t only with putting his shoes on or walking him to the potty. Nor do you give attention because he’s whining or throwing a tantrum. Instead, you also carve time with him 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 your child 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 does things on her own, you’ll still likely find a few of those moments. Praise her every time you catch her doing so.

Maybe she used the potty and washed her hands, all without needing your help. 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 the 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.


As difficult as it is to deal with feelings of jealousy, you can help your older child cope.

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.

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  1. I have a 3 year old who’s been pushing boundaries A LOT since the arrival of his brother.

    He’s very defiant generally but a couple of specific issues we’re struggling with are his sitting or laying on his brother at any given opportunity, despite repeated explanations, removals, distraction etc. it’s really hard to leave the room even for a second and he desperately wants to play with him but can’t resist flattening him!

    The other issue is shrieking, I mean ear splitting. His favorite time to do it is when his brother is napping or close by (it makes him cry), when one of our cats is in the room as they run away, and sometimes just because. We’ve tried suggesting different sounds, lower volume, screaming in a different room (works for a bit and then he returns and carries on), shouting back (not intentionally, it just happens when I can’t take it anymore) and we can’t think of anything else! Any ideas??

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      It can definitely be rough dealing with defiance AND have a baby involved as well. With both the sitting on the baby and the shrieking behavior, it sounds to me like he might be doing this because of the reaction he gets from the adults. This isn’t to say that he’s purposefully plotting a way to make you react, but through repetition and habit, he has learned that certain behaviors elicit particular reactions from you.

      Yes, you’ll want to correct him when he sits on his brother or shrieks at the top of his lungs. But I’ve also found that sometimes the best tactics are a combination of prevention, ignoring, and positive reinforcement.

      First, try to prevent the situation from happening, particularly with the baby. As hard as it is not to leave them in the same room, for now, make this a priority so that he doesn’t even have a chance to sit on the baby. If you sense that he’s going to start being rough, redirect him elsewhere to prevent it from happening. With the shrieking, you can turn on a white noise machine in the baby’s room so that it doesn’t wake him up (and therefore taking away the reaction).

      As far as ignoring, you obviously can’t ignore him sitting on the baby, but if he shrieks, you can redirect your attention elsewhere. Let’s say he shrieks with the baby nearby. You can simply take the baby with you to another room for a few minutes. Or if he shrieks because he wants a particular cup or snack, don’t give it to him until he calms down.

      Then, for positive reinforcement, you want to spot any downshifts he makes from the unwanted behavior to better behavior. Let’s say he’s shrieking because he wants a snack and you’re ignoring the behavior. As soon as he pauses for a few beats, you might turn to him and give him a smile. If he stays somewhat calm, make a move to get the snack. And if he stays calm throughout and eats the snack, you can talk to him about it when he’s calm and receptive. You might say, “I’m so proud of you. You learned to calm yourself down instead of yelling earlier.”

      You want to prevent the unwanted behavior from happening as much as possible. But if it does, ignore and redirect your attention elsewhere. Then, when he makes better choices, you can then praise him for his positive behavior.

      I hope that helps, Sam!