Encouraging Kindness to Younger Siblings
“How can I get my two year old to be nice to her sister who is 4 months old?”
“I just had a baby and ever since I came home from the hospital my 2 year old has been awful. She is being mean to the baby. What do I do? She will make comments like mommy doesn't love her anymore!”
Change is hard. Whether you are 2 or 20 or 42 years old, adapting to new circumstances can cause all kinds of emotions to surface!
As we watch our children struggle with accepting and enjoying a new sibling, we as parents often feel really torn. We now love two people equally, and more than we ever imagined we could love. So how we can help when there is conflict between those two small people?
In the first six months of life our babies need a lot of physical attention. Feeding and rocking and holding and diapering. The older child doesn’t need both our hands but often needs our eyes and words more than the baby. Here are some ways to make your older child feel your love and be secure in his or her place.
1. Tell the baby what you’re doing for the older child.
After coming home with a new baby, we tell our preschooler why they have to wait. “I’m feeding the baby right now.” “Someone has a messy diaper, you’ll have to play on your own for a minute.” “Can’t you see the baby is crying? Not now please.” Our older children are not used to sharing a parent!
A great idea is to point out to the baby every time you do something for your older one. Even if the baby is sleeping, or in a different room! “You’ll have to wait, I’m reading your big brother a book.” “Right now I’m going to cuddle with your sister. I’ll feed you in a little while.”
2. Give the older child some responsibility. Pick a few things that no one else is allowed to do for the new baby. Make a big deal about this role, saying to grandparents or friends, “I need to wait for big sister to help the baby get a bath.” Your older child can stock the diaper bag, or pick out each day’s outfit for the baby, “You are so great at picking clothes the baby likes and feels warm in!” Thank them for their help, and steal moments alone with them to appreciate their contributions.
3. Explain what is great. Talk to your child about why you like watching them be a big sibling. Look through baby pictures of your older child and reminisce about what you loved about their baby years. Then focus on now, and what they bring to your family as a big kid.
4. Don’t let your child behave in a way that hurts the baby. Even though this is a normal reaction, that does not make mean or hurtful behavior OK. You can express sympathy for your older child’s feelings without tolerating bad behavior.
5. Try not to be all-baby, all-the-time. Talk to your friends or family about your older child’s day or accomplishments. Ask your child what they would like to talk about or do. Even to our own children, it can be frustrating to feel like nothing is happening except that new baby!
This is great practice for later. Our children will not always get along. We may or may not be able to help then, but we can sure help now!
You will not “convince” your older one to like this change. That will take time, and they won’t always like having a younger sibling. But you can relieve some of the fear and frustration by using words that remind your older child of their value in your family, and of your great love for them. Our big kids can’t see much that is good about this new baby. It is up to us to help them!