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“Help! my toddler is mean to the baby!”

For many only-child children, life is good. They have their parents’ undivided attention, always responding to their needs, and, more importantly, they don’t have to share with anyone. Now enter a new sibling. The arrival of a new sibling can be one of the most dramatic changes in your child's life, and some children will have difficulties being kind and gentle with their new sibling. 

But not to worry, below are our top tips for creating safe and loving relationships with new babies and their older (sometimes not so helpful) siblings: 

Acknowledge your child’s feelings and experience. Being a big sibling is a hard job. It requires giving up having all the attention and support from the adults around you, as well as tolerating new smells, noises, things in the house and different routines. It is so important to validate those feelings of frustration, jealousy, sadness or anger. While this might not seem to create a magical change in the moment, validating and labeling their feelings is creating a foundation of secure attachment and increased emotional intelligence. 

Create firm but loving boundaries. As a family unit, decide what jobs are kid jobs and what jobs are adult jobs. “Feeding baby is an adult job, but I would love it if you could get me a diaper.” Having firm boundaries around what you will do and what your child can help with will help them to better understand when they can step in. And we always recommend using direct language. 

If you have the time to work with your toddler on using ‘gentle hands’ with their baby sibling, coach and model that! Practice gently picking up baby, offering baby a pacifier, or rubbing baby’s tummy. Then when you use those words, they will be better able to understand what gentle hands look and feel like. If you are not able to support your child in practicing gentle hands, and they are being a little too rough with the baby, use direct language like “hands off” to let them know the expectation for that moment. Later you can practice “gentle hands” again when you have more time to support and coach.

Providing 1:1 time. Newborns often require lots of time and attention, and it can be challenging to provide that same level of care and attention to your other children. Sometimes, we see children act out in an effort to connect with their parent. Try to give your toddler some 1:1 time, even if it’s just ten or 20 minutes a day. When your baby is napping, try doing a little craft, or baking together. Try putting your baby in a sling so you can be hands-free to build a tower. Spending these special moments with your oldest will let them know that even though things look a little different, you still value spending time with them. 

Redirect with positive language. As a parent, it can feel exhausting to say ‘no’ all day. Challenge yourself to see how many different ways you can create a kind but loving boundary without using the word no. “Wow I can see you really want to help me take care of your sister right now. I will feed her the bottle, but can you get me a diaper?” Validate the experience, set the boundary and redirect their efforts to something that is more appropriate. These different ways of saying ‘no’ can help create a less frustrating exchange for both you and your child. 

Create a YES space (and YES moments). Have a space in your house that is 100 percent for your child. This is a space where everything they touch is a ‘yes’, everything they can do is a ‘yes’ and you feel confident having them go there during times where your hands are busy with the baby. Make sure to have ‘yes’ moments with just your older child as well, where they can engage with you in rough play, have all the cuddles with you, and the focus is on them. These yes moments and yes spaces can help create moments of the day where your child feels fulfilled and loved. 

Cuddles and reassurance. At the end of the day, we know they are trying their hardest. And even though it might feel exhausting to manage all of their feelings, helpfulness and efforts, they really are trying to be the best big sibling they can be. Take a couple moments throughout the day for a little cuddle, lots of positive praise and reassurance that you value them. These cuddles and sweet moments are just as necessary for you as they are for them. Juggling a baby and an older sibling can be challenging, but by taking some time to get creative and considering the needs of each child, you'll be able to create those small meaningful moments which grow to become loving and safe connections between all family members. 


Ashlee and Lisa are child psychologists who created KidsConnect Psychology as a place for children and families to access tools, supports and therapy. Check out their website for digital downloads, parenting tool kits, information about their parent counselling, school consultations, daycare consultations and more! Follow them on Facebook and Instagram at KidsConnect Psychology.


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