How a new sibling is handled can set your child up for failure and possibly make them spend the rest of their life trying to find their place and worth in the family. That’s a harsh statement!
Let’s start with the perspective a child. The first child is born and he is the apple of his parents’ eye; the baby they have always wanted. The parents laugh over his giggles, his smiles, and even his funny antics. * Word of warning – what is cute now that you laugh at, may not be as funny and cute when he is older!
It is just baby and parents. The baby is the center of attention and the object of everyone’s love. What will he be? Will he be a lawyer? A doctor? An athlete? It doesn’t matter, because he is just the cutest baby in the entire world. Life is grand.
Enter baby #2. Parents are excited and tell the first born he will be a big brother! He also gets excited, not really knowing what is happening. He might think of new baby just like a new puppy or something to play with, while thinking “Mom and Dad’s world still revolves around me”.
The new baby is born and everyone gets excited. Isn’t she the cutest little girl? Such beautiful curly hair! She’s going to be a model. She is the sweetest girl ever and she hardly cries. She is Daddy’s little angel.
How do you think the brother is feeling right now? I think he might be ready to send the baby back and many have inquired as to when is the baby leaving? To which, you answer, “never, she will be here forever, you love your baby sister!” He has been dethroned!
You can compare this to getting a new spouse in the family. Your husband tells you he is going to have a new spouse that he will take out to dinner, share your belongings, and live with you. However, you shouldn’t worry because he will love you just as much. I’m sure you will welcome and love that new spouse, right? This is a dramatic example, but it does illustrate how a child may be thinking.
Unless a parent is very intentional to avoid it, the first born can feel like he has lost his place in the family and will begin to look and experiment with new ways to belong and feel valuable.
He may become very helpful and take on the bigger brother role. Or he may regress and want to be a baby again, because the baby gets all the attention. He may start wetting pants again, want to drink out of a bottle, throw temper tantrums, whine, or many other actions to find his place as the “beloved” baby again.
He may also become hurtful and seek revenge. He may hurt the baby when no one is looking, hit his baby sister, want nothing to do with her, be angry, and generally not happy. What happened to the cute little boy that was the center of a parent’s world? How could he be doing these things?
It is further reinforced when he does something to the baby and he gets yelled at, sent away, and then the precious new baby is pampered. Worse yet, he is hit because he hit the baby, while the parent is yelling “We don’t hit in this house!” Chaos begins ………
If this continues, eventually the big brother can learn that he gets lots of attention by being “bad” or bullying. Little sister can learn to be helpless and get lots of attention by being a victim. Also, the roles can switch. I always tell people to watch our for the precious baby down the road!
The entire sibling rivalry pattern might be set up for the future and possibly for life. I have seen many adult siblings who still have these feelings because of the way their parents treated the kids. I also see adult kids who have those feelings for their parents because the parents are still comparing the adult kids and even grandkids!
So how to avoid it?
Be intentional with what you say. Avoid phrases like big boy, good boy, bad boy, which further label your kids. In one of my workshops, I had a mom who said that all the time and one day her son looked at her and said “your good boy is gone!” He felt like he obtained his value by being good or big, and not for who he was.
Find ways for your older child to be helpful and truly show appreciation for helping. It’s much better to say “Thanks for helping” than “you’re such a big boy”.
Do activities that can only be done when you are older, that baby can’t do. You can go outside and shoot hoops, or go fishing. He will see this as an activity that older kids get to do, not a new baby. Done enough, he may see there is value in being older and being a baby isn’t as fun.
- Spend special time or dates with JUST your older child. Let him hear you say to the baby that you are sorry to leave, but you have a date with your son!
Do not expect him to share his toys, food, blanket, or any other belongings with the new baby. You may suggest it, but if he refuses, make it understandable. This isn’t the time for a sharing lecture. However, explain to him if he leaves his belongings out, you are not responsible if the baby gets them.
Look for ways to encourage (not sugary praise) him as his own person and NEVER compare him to the baby sister or ask him why he can’t be like her.
The key is to know that this behavior can happen, understand it, and deal with the belief behind the behavior. This isn’t the time for punishing, which further intensifies the feelings of not as loved as the baby. He is looking for a new place in the family and will do what it takes, good or bad, to get the attention back. If he feels hurt, he may hurt back. If you spend as much time making him feel just as valuable and loved as the new baby, chances are you may never have to deal with sibling rivalry down the road.
Peace Begins At Home,
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