Inside: Sibling Jealousy when a new baby comes into a family is a very real thing. Get 12 simple tips to help your older child cope with a new sibling.
When I was pregnant with my second child everyone starting warning me: “It’s triple the work so good luck…”
And they always said it with a hint of I-know-something-you-don’t in their tone.
And I couldn’t figure it out.
Two kids, twice the work… How could it possibly be more work than that?
I was seriously baffled.
Until my second child was born and a light bulb went off.
I finally got it.
You have to parent your first child and of course parent your second child.
But now you also have to parent your children’s relationship with each other.
You have to help your kids learn how to take turns and share a living space and to not rage with jealousy when you’re helping their sibling.
You have to parent the sibling relationship to ensure they’re being kind to one another, and want to be together, and can be left alone in a room without hurting each other.
Sibling jealousy is a very real thing.
Creating and maintaining positive sibling relationships between your kids takes a lot of work.
And parents can get a head start by building and laying the groundwork for this positive sibling interaction before your child’s new sibling is even born.
Why are positive sibling relationships important?
Positive sibling relationships are indicative of the overall mental health of your family.
If the kids are constantly bickering, teasing, and fighting, your home will be more chaotic and full of strife.
If you can encourage and then expect siblings to treat each other with respect and kindness, your home will be a more peaceful place to live. Which will make you a calmer, happier parent.
Siblings are our kids’ first friends.
For better or worse, they will share a childhood with each other and have something in common none of their friends will ever understand: being in our family.
Siblings will vacation together and play together and share all of their holidays and traditions with one another. It will all be more enjoyable if they like being together.
Siblings help us learn social skills and social cues. They learn how to turn take, and wait patiently.
They learn how to not hurt people’s feelings and how to apologize.
They learn they can’t take things that don’t belong to them without consequences.
Siblings who have positive relationships with one another will stand up for each other outside of your home.
The school playground is not always the kindest of places. Knowing there’s someone who will protect you, or stand up for you, or help you is extremely comforting.
When should you start encouraging a positive sibling relationship?
It is never too early or too late to start creating a more positive sibling relationship.
If you have older children, these 18 ideas will help you prevent sibling rivalry while encouraging and maintaining positive relationships between your kids.
If you have a newborn or are pregnant with your second or third child, these 12 ideas will get you started on the right foot.
How to Prevent Sibling Jealousy and Create a Positive Sibling Relationship:
1.Use very specific pronouns when talking about the baby:
To help my eldest daughter take ownership of our newest family member, when I found out I was pregnant I started calling him “her baby,” and “our baby,” and “your baby,” rather than “my baby.”
This simple switch was more inclusive and helped her with adjusting to the idea of a new baby coming into our house and our family.
It’s harder for sibling jealousy to happen when the baby feels like part of the entire family.
2. Read new baby and sibling books with positive messages:
We’re a family of readers, so it was only natural to get new baby books for our kids when we added a new family member.
We could read about what babies like and don’t like and what they would be able to do when they first come home. My kids were hoping to play with their new baby right away so we had to manage those expectations. Books were a great way to do it.
Our family favorites:
3. Enroll Your Child in a Big Sibling Class
Our daughter was so young when my son was born that she didn’t remember any of it. When my third was on the way, we enrolled our eldest daughter in a big sibling class at our hospital.
She got to dress and diaper a baby doll and learn how to help me when the baby comes. She was so proud of that certificate and was ready to be a big sister again.
Feeling empowered and part of the caretaking of a new baby can help children deal with sibling jealousy.
4. When your kids first meet, avoid holding the baby
I had read long ago that after you deliver your baby and your eldest child or children come in the room to see you and meet their sibling, it’s important that I wasn’t holding the baby when she walked in.
Keeping the baby in the bassinet when my daughter walked in helped me hug her tight with both my arms to reassure her that she could still fit in my arms.
To physically show her there was room for her still.
And while many things would change, her getting snuggles from me wouldn’t.
5. Sibling gifts
There were tons of new presents for the baby over the course of getting ready to have another newborn in the house. Between me preparing and the shower gifts, my toddler kept seeing stacks and stacks of presents that weren’t for her.
So we made sure to buy her a present we knew she would love and we told her it was from her new baby brother. Her eyes got real big as she tried to figure out how he was able to go shopping for her new book.
We also purchased a few keep-you-busy-presents that we would pull out whenever I was breastfeeding the baby.
She got to enjoy something special and looked forward to me feeding her brother as opposed to her demanding my attention when I couldn’t give it.
6. Read Siblings Without Rivalry
Siblings Without Rivalry is hands-down one of the most helpful books on how to help prevent sibling jealousy.
It helps parents realize why siblings become jealous, and how we can shift how we talk to our children to reduce competition and fighting and increase cooperation.
7. Encourage older siblings to be helpers
To further increase my daughter’s ownership of our newest family member and to help her adjust to the changes, I implored her to help. I asked her to get me a diaper, or reach my water, or pour water over the baby’s legs during bath time to keep him warm.
When the baby was older, I asked my daughter to help feed the baby, read to the baby, and stack the baby food on the pantry shelves after grocery shopping.
And as my baby grew, my eldest started helping put on shoes, getting toys, and walking them to the car.
All of these times where it felt natural to help their siblings, set my children up for helping each other now that they’re older.
They know they can count on each other for assistance in reading harder words, reaching something high up, and learning how to balance on a skateboard.
8. Help your older child first
As a new mom, one of my worries was, if both of my kids are crying and need me, who do I help first?
Barring any real emergency, my knee-jerk reaction was to help the baby…help the most fragile, most in need of my help made sense to me.
But my eldest daughter was watching me. She saw I “chose” to help her sibling first, which of course felt “unfair” in her toddler mind.
This is a great way to foster sibling jealousy, which is NOT what I wanted.
So I started helping her first. When they both were crying, I hugged her, reassured her and loved on her first. The baby didn’t know that I “chose” his sister and everyone got the love and help they needed.
9. Let them be annoyed or frustrated with the baby
All of a sudden, our kids have to share us. They have to share our time, our energy, and our love. They have to share their home and their toys and their family.
It’s hard for a toddler or preschooler or even a school-aged kid to wrap their brain around that.
Let them tell you their feelings of jealousy, frustration or anger without dismissing it. It’s okay if they’re having those emotions and it’s better they share them with you than bottle them up or act on their emotions.
Empathize with them rather than brushing off their feelings: “I know. The baby needs me a lot and I can’t read to you as often as I used to. That must be frustrating. Can we read together right now?”
10. Set aside alone time with them
Because our time and energy is now divided between two or more children, our kids can easily feel unwanted, unloved, or unnoticed. Even if that’s not the reality, that’s their reality.
In our family, one way to combat that is to set up special Mommy and me time with my kids.
We go on dates or run an errand just the two of us, or we snuggle and read books without any interruptions.
It makes our kids feel special and extra loved and it’s a solid reminder that they don’t have to compete for our attention and our affection.
11. Start creating a strong family identity
We also work hard to create a strong family identity so that our kids feel part of something special so they want to spend time together, with their siblings.
Take family walks together, read books as a family together, or start a new family ritual.
When my son was born, my husband starting singing the song, Someone to Care For from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang to the two of them at bedtime which created an inclusive, you’re part of a bigger group ritual for my kids.
12. Create Siblings Books
Even after doing all of these things, my eldest daughter still didn’t love the fact that her siblings were now part of her world. Some days I think she would have been content to be an only child.
But that doesn’t work for me.
I need her to enjoy her siblings. Have fun with them. Want to be with them. Love them.
I need to stop the sibling jealousy in its tracks.
So I created a sibling book to help her realize how much she does enjoy being with her siblings.
To make one, I searched through all the pictures I had of my daughter and my son. I printed out pictures of them playing together, helping each other, and enjoying each other’s company.
I glued the pictures onto construction paper and wrote a first-person story about what was happening in each of the pictures:
I’ve known my brother Braeden his whole life.
I met him at the hospital.
(For Braeden’s book I used the same pictures but I started with: I’ve known my sister Addison my whole life. She met me at the hospital.)
When he was little, I helped him.
I fed him his bottle.
I gave him a bath.
And I read books to him.
Now that he’s older, we like to play with the same things.
We love to play with our water table.
We love to play with our blocks.
And we love to go to the park.
We both love ice cream.
And we both love Disneyland.
I love my brother Braeden, and he loves me.
I laminated all the pages and bound it into a book at a local office supply store.
Then we read the book every day.
And one day they’ll look back on those books I have now hidden away in storage and I’ll tell them the story about why I made the books.
I’ll remind them that they will always have each other and so they’ll always have someone they can turn to.
And that’s why it was so important to me that even though parenting the two of them was, in fact, triple the work, it was worth every second.
Because I gave them the best gift I could ever give them: each other.