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Sibling rivalry and the new baby

Few things are more important to parents than having their kids get along well together! Nevertheless, it can be difficult for kids, especially toddlers, to accept new additions to the family. 

“Where they were once the centre of your world, now they’re forced to share the spotlight,” as Sophie Bell of BabyCentre, a major parenting site, puts it. 

Let’s consider what you can do and say to reduce the amount of sibling rivalry following the arrival of a new baby. Here’s what the experts suggest:

Tell your kids that you’re pregnant

Experts agree that you should tell your kids that you’re pregnant before you tell other family members and friends. Sophie says doing so will make your kids feel special and inspire a sense of ownership that’ll reduce any sibling rivalry. 

Dr. Hindie Klein, a clinical psychologist with decades of experience, adds that you can foster such a sense of ownership by referring to the new baby as “our baby” instead of “the baby.” The point is to make your kids feel that they’re participants as opposed to passive spectators to this “new and exciting experience,” as Dr. Klein puts it.

Prepare them for the baby

Create a sense of ownership, Sophie says, by letting your kids feel the baby kicking in your stomach and talking to them, and by showing your child photos of when you were pregnant with them. If your kids are toddlers or preschoolers, Dr. Klein adds, tell them about their own birth and read books with them about what it’s like to be pregnant.

Involve them in taking care of the baby

Once you and the newborn are safely home from the hospital, involve your kids as much as possible in taking care of the baby. Among many other things, they can fetch diapers and hold towels at bath time, talk gently or sing to the baby when it cries, and hold the baby in their lap (assuming that they’re supervised and properly supported – safety first!) 

The latter suggestion is especially important since babies give off pheromones that, when inhaled, make us fall in love with and become protective of them. 

“The more your older child snuggles the new sibling, the better their relationship is likely to be,” says Dr. Laura Markham, a well-known clinical psychologist and author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings.

Focus on sibling bonding

Regardless of how you choose to involve your kids in caring for the baby, always point out how much the baby loves the attention of its siblings. This enhances their bonding and reduces any sibling rivalry. Say things like: “Look at how she smiles for you!” (Sophie) or “my, he loves it when you sing to him!” (Dr. Markham).

Spend extra time with your kidsTaking care of a baby is time-consuming, and it can be hard to find any extra time to spend alone with your other kids. But to the extent possible, try to carve out a little time, even if it’s only ten to 15 minutes a day, just for them. Those few minutes can do wonders in terms of reducing any sibling rivalry. 

Reinforce your love for them

Assure your other kids that the baby hasn’t changed your feelings for them. If anything, you love and appreciate them even more now that they’re big siblings who help take care of the baby so well. You want to emphasize, as Dr. Markham puts it, “all the wonderful things about who they are and how they contribute to the family.” Don’t underestimate the importance of extra cuddles and kisses for the other kids. “Even if they’re too young to fully understand,” Sophie says, “they’ll appreciate the cuddles and kisses that come with this special time to bond with you.”

Acknowledge their feelings

Despite your best efforts to make your other kids bond with the baby, they’re likely to experience frustrations that if left unacknowledged can lead to sibling rivalry. It’s always a good idea to acknowledge those frustrations. “Encourage older children to talk about their feelings and conflicts and assure them that they can have these feelings and still be a wonderful older brother or sister,” as Dr. Klein puts it. 

If your other kids are toddlers, help them put words to their frustrations if they’re unable to do so themselves. For example, if the baby’s crying a lot and it’s interfering with your ability to take care of them, you could say: “She does cry a lot, doesn't she?” (Sophie). The point, Dr. Markham says, is to “give your child words for her feelings, because that helps her manage them rather than having to act them out.”


Tanni Haas, Ph.D. is a Professor in the Department of Communication Arts, Sciences and Disorders at the City University of New York – Brooklyn College.


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