When Siblings Act Out Toward the New Baby

57441559_22.jpgAdding a baby to the family can sometimes come with mixed emotions from parents, and even more likely from siblings. Even siblings who express excitement at the announcement of pregnancy and enjoy touching mom's belly and talking to the baby can later act out and experience difficult emotions over the new baby. No matter the age of your other chil(ren), there is likely to be some fear over their position in the family when another child joins the mix. As parents, however, it can be very hard to watch siblings act out with anger or frustration over the new baby. The following gives examples of common challenging sibling responses or behavior toward a new baby or pregnancy, and provides tips and links on how to address the issue.

"I hate the baby!"

First, take a deep breath. Calming yourself before you react to your older child (whom you also love very much!) is so important. With such a strong statement, it may look like your child is being mean, but in reality, anger is always a symptom of another underlying emotion. In this case, it's likely fear -- fear of being replaced, losing your love, and ultimately (from our evolutionary biological human response), fear for survival. Responding to your child from a place of empathy rather than returning with anger or invalidation ("No, you don't hate the baby -- don't say that!") is important to show your child that you understand that she's having a hard time, that what she's feeling is normal, and that you will make her feel safe and loved. After you address your child's fears, you can then take the time to teach him to use other, more respectful ways to express his hurts and fears. For more tips on dealing with an older sibling's feelings toward the new baby, check out this resource from Dr. Sears.  

Sibling hitting the baby

The first step in this situation is safety! Remove your older child immediately (with gentle hands) from her position near baby. Tell her that you need to keep everyone safe and you won't allow anyone to get hurt. Recognize, again, your own trigger and response to this situation. Try to remain calm and instead of seeing your older child as the enemy or aggressor, see your child as someone who is hurting inside and in big need of your help to learn how to use other ways of expressing himself. It will be important to allow your older child some time to calm down, an opportunity to explain why she hit (for a toy, because the baby was being loud, etc.), teach her how to express herself with words and to get a parent if she feels like hitting again, and invite her to make repairs for her actions toward the baby. In the future, it will be important to stay close to your older child and the baby to step in and prevent an episode of hitting. Younger children especially act impulsively, so it will be up to you to watch and listen for clues that a sibling is revving up and may act out by hitting. For more detailed tips on what to do and say in this situation, check out this advice from Dr. Laura Markham of Aha Parenting

Acting Out

When children are hurting (emotionally) or afraid, it's normal for them to act out -- with defiant behavior, with aggression, by being moody or more needy, more tears/meltdowns that usual, and in anger. Recognizing that their uptick in challenging behavior is likely due to the new baby is the first step toward helping you approach the behavior with more compassion and empathy. Let your older child know that you understand it's hard/confusing/scary/upsetting to experience changes in the family, like that of adding a new baby. Reassure him that you have and will always love him, and that their place in the family is very much wanted and needed. Work together to find more constructive ways of dealing with the emotions that surface, while making sure that you carve out special one-on-one time with your oldest, even if for just 15 minutes a day. Dr. Laura Markham offers more advice on this topic, including ways to prep siblings in advance of baby's arrival.  

Regression

It's very common for older children to revert to younger behaviors or falter on milestones they had already passed (think potty training, sleeping through the night, etc.) when a new baby arrives. It's hard, especially, for younger children to process what it means to have to share their parents' time and attention, and this difficulty in processing often manifests in quirky ways. If this happens, avoid blame, shame, and anger with your child -- it is a temporary behavior, and with patience and time, will most likely go away. Adding blame, shame, or anger may not only intensify and prolong the behavior, but will likely bring out other negative behaviors from your child. Instead, slather on the love and attention whenever possible, empathize with her new experience in the family, and keep your connection strong with your oldest. 

For some, it may be the case that you and your child need intervention with the help of a professional. If you are overwhelmed and feel like you or your child is out of control and into the danger zone, seek help from an experienced parenting counselor or child behavioral therapist. 

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