I will never forget the time my youngest, Rocco, was six weeks old and crying in his vibrating baby chair while I was attempting to make dinner. His three-year-old brother, Carmelo, calmly walked over, slapped his face and said, “Quiet baby.” I took a deep breath, put down my wooden spoon and tried to explain that you can’t hit the baby.
“Events like these are normal responses to a little bit of jealousy,” reassures early childhood educator Jeannette Decker. Thankfully it hasn’t happened again.
Not only are kids having to cope with all the radical changes that come with a new sibling, but they also need to grieve the loss of their old life. As Decker says, these outbursts are often a signal they are craving more attention from you.
Here are some things to try to set the sibling relationship off to a good start:
1. Allow kids the opportunity to express their feelings.
2. Avoid judging their expressions by saying things like, “You’re exaggerating and being dramatic” or “Come on, get over it” or “You love your new sister—isn’t she cute?
3. Validate their experience even when you don’t agree.
4. Give them time to process information about their behaviour and the needs of their new sibling.
5. Be emotionally available in times of distress (even when they’re driving you nuts).
A version of this article appeared in our October 2016 issues, titled “Don’t bite the baby! Helping toddlers cope with siblings,” pg. 44.