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Preschooler/Baby Sibling Relationships

Berkeley Parents Network > Advice > Family Relations > Preschooler/Baby Sibling Relationships



Nightly battles with 4-year-old over nursing baby

September 2006

I'm posting this question for my cousin, who is now dealing with nightly battles with her almost-4-year-old. Her little girl wants to sleep in her parents' bed now that her new (nursing) sister is allowed to. Apparently she's always loved her own bed and has never expressed a desire to sleep with her parents before. They have tried the group family sleeping arrangement and it's not working out. I did see some books recommended in the archives on preparing a sibling for a new baby, but I didn't see any specific advice from anyone who has dealt with a similar problem to this one. Does anyone have any tips or encouragment? How can my cousin make this transition easier for her little girl? Thanks for your help. Theresa


We had some similar issues with our then 2.5 YO when the new baby came. There were three things we did that helped. First, we got a co-sleeper for the newborn so that we could actually let the older one sleep in the bed too sometimes. I understand why it feels unfair and kind of like a slight to the older one that the baby gets all this snuggle time that the older one doesn't. So, I wanted to indulge it a little. When that got too uncomfortable, we put a litttle mattress at the foot of our bed. That way, when the newborn went in the co-sleeper, the older one slept at the foot of our bed in her own ''co-sleeper'' so she felt like she was being treated the same. Finally, we went with the chart and reward system to keep her in her room but that only helped for about a week. The only thing that really worked was when the baby finally moved into her own room at about 3 months. Hope this helps
Still Sleep Deprived 2 Years Later

3 year old really dislikes 7 month old brother

March 2006

Oh, I am at my wits end over here and need help! My daughter, who will be three in April, absolutely does not like her 7 month-old brother. She was never excited about having a baby brother in the first place, and things have not changed since he was born. I thought that perhaps once he grew up a little and went from a crying infant to more of a person, she would change her mind, but so far, nothing. He is siting up, and is starting to crawl, but this has not changed her feelings towards him one bit.

She thinks he is loud and weird, and I'm sure he is, to her.

We have read ''Siblings Without Rivalry'' and try to follow their advice; we have never tried to force any kind of sibling relationship on our daughter. We let her have her feelings and remain neutral about her comments (for example, if she says, ''I don't want him to touch me!'' we might say, ''Okay, you don't want him to touch you.'' Or if she says, ''He can't play with the blocks!'' we say, ''Those blocks belong to the family. If you would like to go into your own room and play with your toys, you can. However, if you want to play with the blocks, you need to share with your brother.'')

The baby is so happy and is usually in a good mood. It just is so hard to see her visibly recoil from him. Lately, a friend remarked that it seemed like a lot of effort for her to ignore him as much as she does...more effort than just talking to him or even looking in his direction.

More info: our daughter is in preschool 5 mornings a week, and really enjoys it. I pick her up after lunch and right before her nap, then the three of us spend the afternoons together.

What should I do differently? Will this change? I need perspective and suggestions. I had such a great friendship with my brother, and this just breaks my heart. Thanks so much.

--At my wits end


My kids are spaced about the same distance as you and they really didn't want to have anythig to do with each other until after the little one was about 18 months. Plus, three year olds like to do their own thing. When they are closer to five, they want to have someone to play with--this is when a little sibling comes in handy (even if they are kind of annoying, sometimes:))

When the babay was 18 months, they started playing together and now play very well about 85 percent of the time. Sure, they still fight, but on the whole I am so glad to have both of them. They are both boys and share a room (and all the toys in it). mom of 2


My older son had a really hard time accepting his brother for the first year. They are now two and four and they're finally playing together and the older is usually very sweet with his brother. I'm totally amazed that they laugh together and actually have loving feelings for one another because, like you, I was really upset when my older son constantly told his brother to go away, or pretended to shoot him, or would physically hurt him. Their relationship isn't perfect but it's so much better now that my younger one is old enough to talk and engage in reciprocal play. I'm sure their relationship will ebb and flow but now I know that they will mostly be great friends. It gets better!
Hi-- I don't think this is uncommon. I do think you shouldn't expect her to ''change her mind about him.'' In a similar situation, we spent our energy simply trying to enforce safe and respectful behavior between sibs, and felt lucky if they could be pleasant or at least neutral towards each other, instead of making everyone tense and angry.

My 3.5 yr old son was jealous of his little sister before she even arrived. He finally decided to let go of it a few months ago (he's now 15). It's been awful for her her whole life to have a mean, teasing older brother, especially since she was predisposed to adore him. I give a lot of credit to a family counselor who suggested last year that he was in a great position to be a mentor to her on social and school stuff-- which gave him a different picture of himself behaving towards her, now that she's a tween. He doesn't do it much, but anything's an improvement.

Of course, now that we don't have to intervene in his mean teasing, we're dealing with her unpleasant coping behaviors that have become habits.

I've been on both sides of this, since my older brother was jealous of me from day one and constantly took it out on me until we were adult, while I had a marvelous closeness with my younger brother. I've decided it's a temperament thing. Some older sibs are nurturing, some are not. Good luck. anonymous


Does your 3 yo really need a nap? My 3 yo's never napped during the day. Helps make bedtime easier, at the least. Perhaps you can do 'big girl' things with your daughter when the baby naps. May help with her own definitions of role: '' The 'baby' sleeps in the day; I'm big so can play with my kid toys and help Mommy with chores.''
Could it be that what your daughter really misses is having you to herself? I know it's hard with 2 kids, but maybe you could make some time to spend just with her on a regular basis, if you're not already. It really sounds like you're doing all the right things. I have two girls who are about the same distance apart and the older one used to complain horribly about the younger one. Now they're 16 and 13 and I think they're much more likely to complain about me! Patty
I had this problem. I had to watch #1 constantly and hold my arm protectively. He used to bite the baby!! I would find teeth marks!

I think that the hardest part about having a second child is the loss of intimacy with the first.

So, pay as much attention to her as you can. Assure her a lot. My older one still has a bit of ''he gets to be with you'' but they are best friends and play really well unless they are tired.

You are doing really well. It gets easier and better between them when they can talk. And try to have as much one on one time as you can with #1. And ditch 'em once and a while and get a pedicure or massage for you. just going alone for groceries is a luxury at this point!

Wishing you well


3-year-old "hates" her baby brother

November 2005

I would really appreciate some advice about what to do with older sibling (3 years old) who ''hates'' younger brother (4 months old). She is constantly saying that she wants him to go away or that she wants to move far away. She's been hostile toward us and him especially when he's getting any kind of attention. We really feel that we're understanding and compassionate parents who give her equal time with both of us (grandparents help out quite a bit), but no matter what we do she is still angry. We feel bad for her, her brother and us. Any suggestions? Books we should read? Thanks so much!! (By the way, I looked for archived advice on this issue thinking I would find tons, but couldn't find any, maybe the moderator can direct me)
Worried Mama


This isn't great advice but but we dealt with the same problem. Our daughters are 3.5 years apart and that first year was hell. I began wondering if having 2 kids was a big mistake. Our older daughter was difficult with us and downright mean to her baby sister. It was a very loooong year. But, after the first year, our oldest began Kindergarten and things began to change - dramatically. She's now a great big sister and quite attentive to her little sister. I'm not quite sure what changed but maybe it was maturity or that she could begin to interact with that 'thing' she used to dislike so much. We aren't sure. It is now fun to watch the two of them play and truly enjoy one another's company. I hope this happens for you as well. Hang it there ! got 2 too
I've recently read Siblings Without Rivalry and was so impressed that i bought copies for several of my friends. its a fast, easy read and it makes a lot of sense. good luck

Is this normal sibling jealousy? (4yo and baby)

June 2004

My four year old son has been exhibiting intentionally difficult and provocative behavior in the past few weeks. He became a big brother for the first time about 3 months ago. His behavior at first was surprisingly good. In the past few weeks, however, his behavior has become increasingly negative and unmanagable. He purposefully scratches, hits and squeezes the baby whenever he can, slaps me, tries to ram the baby's bottle into his mouth, and jumps on the sofa next to me and pushes the baby's head while I'm trying to breastfeed. When the baby's sleeping, he intentionally slams the doors as loudly as he can to wake the baby up. He also screams constantly -- sometimes because he's having a meltdown, but often just for fun. Today he came home from preschool, walked over to the coffee table and intentionally threw all the books and magazines onto the floor. Later he threw yogurt all over the kitchen walls and my computer ''just for fun''. He sasses me and tells me repeatedly that he hates me. Sometimes he says this in a teasing voice and other times in a serious or hurtful tone. If I tell him ''no'' about anything, he says I don't love him anymore. He's in a generally negative mood and doesn't want to do anything; e.g., doesn't want to go to school, doesn't want to go to gymnastics class, doesn't want to have a playdate. My son always exhibited some difficult behavior, but nothing like what we've seen in the past few weeks. This behavior has been very disruptive for the whole family -- the baby is having trouble eating and sleeping, and my husband and I are worried sick about what to do. I have tried to implement the tools I read about introducing children to new siblings -- e.g., prepare the child several months in advance, read lots of books on the subject, acknowledge his feelings of jealousy, try to make one-on-one time for him, go out of the way to make his feel special, etc.-- but these approaches don't seem to be working. My husband and I are starting to see a family therapist about these issues. After listening to what's going on with my son, the therapist said he is angry, exhibits a lack of self-control and the family needs to be in long-term therapy to figure out how we got into this situation. I wonder, however, if my son's behavior is just normal sibling jealousy. If so, how long should I expect this to go on and how did you deal with it? Thanks for any input.
Exhausted and concerned mom


You don't mention that you have tried any form of discipline. Not having any limits can make kids feel anxious and even angry. Having boundaries is reassuring; too much power is scary for kids. anon
My daughter who was three at time my son was born exhibited very similar behavior. We went to see Meg Zweiback who helped come up with parenting strategies to deal with my daughter's anger and need for boundaries. We saw her for 2 or 3 months and it really helped. It turns out that my daughter was really angry with us, not her little brother. She is now 4 and still has occasional issues with hurting her brother, but now that we effectively deal with it, it is not a family crisis. I hightly recommend Meg. Look her up in the book. She works out of her Oakland home.
Lisa
Whether it's jealousy or not, it is obvious that your child wants your attention and I don't see anything wrong with that whatsoever. For 3 months your child has experienced that attention has been shifted away from him with no end in sight. (No wonder he rejects school, classes and playdates - he wants more time with you, not less). So, if he can't get enough the good way, he nows sees it work when he behaves badly, and more instantly when he behaves out of control. Bad attention is better than no attention and for your son this may even seem somewhat of an improvement, although a very sad one, compared to the times before the baby. The problem is mostly felt by you - the parents.

To me there is only one obvious cure: Both you and your husband need to take turns spending scheduled 1:1 quality time with your 4-year old alone without the baby and outside the house, if possible. By now you may lost some desire to be with him, because of his bad behavior. If you schedule a firm 30 minutes each day with your child that he can count on no matter what, I bet you'll see a positive change within the first week. During these 30 minutes you do exactly what your child wants to do (i.e. play along with his toys/games)and nothing else. Do not try to get something done for the house at the same time. This is about undivided attention, not multi-tasking. Kids very well feel the difference. (It's very helpful to have a good selection of appealing arts & crafts activities and board games on hand. Between the ages 4-7, of course, you let your child go first and let him win. Older than 7, they don't mind lo! sing a few.). If we should spend 30 minutes daily listening to our spouses (and they to us) to keep our marriages alive and well, I'm very sure our kids need and deserve the same. Instead of taking more private time away from your child and giving it to a therapist, I'd try giving the time to the child first and see if things improve that way.
Anonymous


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