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 emotions flew out the door, and he’d throw a fit over every little thing. 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. Every morning, it’s up to you to dress her and help with using the potty, even if you know she can manage on her own.
Once in a while, she will dress herself or use the potty, but for the most part, she insists you do it for her. And if she doesn’t? Then she cries until you relent.
What to do about new baby jealousy and regression
As if welcoming a new baby wasn’t challenging enough, for many parents, dealing with their older kids tops them all.
Their behavior is understandable, that’s for sure. If a baby is hard for parents, you can imagine how difficult it is for your child. All her life, she had you all to herself. Now, she has a new sibling who needs your attention—and he’s not exactly going anywhere.
Your older child may also not understand that babies need more attention than older kids. While she can fetch her own snack, you need to be the one to nurse the baby. And while she can sleep through the night, you’re the one up all hours rocking him to sleep.
Still, the regression is taking a toll on your family. It’s frustrating doing something for your child that she can not only do on her own, but that you’re only consenting to just to avoid another outburst. What can parents do?
1. Be firm
As understanding as we should be to our kids’ regression, we also need to balance it with setting expectations, regardless of a new baby.
Your child 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. Instead, you might say, “I know it doesn’t feel good sometimes with all the changes happening at home. 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 otherwise 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.
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 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.
Your child will relish these blocks of time where she can have you all to herself. She’ll feel reassured that even though you have a new baby, you’ll still have pockets of special time with her.
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.
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3. Ask for her 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 brother 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 daughter 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 our kids’ positive behaviors is more effective than having to correct inappropriate behavior. Take advantage of all the times—no matter how small or rare—you catch your child doing something good.
5. Explain that a new baby doesn’t mean you love him any less
Kids regress as a response to changes in their lives—in this case, a new baby. He may not like how things seem different and wonders how long this will last. And he may worry whether you still love him, especially with less attention and more misbehavior on his part.
Reassure him that you love him no matter what. That a new baby doesn’t mean you love him any less, or that any antics he does won’t cause you to withhold your love and attention.
He needs to know you’ll always be there for him, regardless of a new baby or his misbehavior.
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I admit, those early weeks after bringing the twins home drew the worst out of me. I was most impatient especially with my older child. I had to remind myself that this was much harder on him than it ever will be on me. And that I needed to be more empathetic and understanding of his regressions, no matter how frustrating they may be.
You can do the same. Be firm with your expectations of your child’s capabilities and duties. 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 no matter what, 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
Tell me in the comments: What has been the biggest struggle with new baby jealousy and your older child’s regression?