Friday, June 27, 2008

First-Born Jealousy

ByElizabeth Pantley, Author of the No-Cry Sleep Solution and Gentle Baby Care

Question: Our first-born is showing extreme jealousytowards the new baby. He’s obviously mad at us for disrupting the predictableflow of his life with this new challenger for our attention. How can we smooththings out?

Think about it:Before the baby entered your family, your toddler was told he’d have awonderful little brother to play with, and how much fun it would be. Then thelittle brother is born and your toddler is thinking, “Are you kidding me? This squirming, red-faced baby that takes up allyour time and attention is supposed to be FUN?” He then “plays” with thebaby in the only ways he knows how. He plays catch. You yell at him forthrowing toys at the baby. He plays hide-and-seek. You yell at him to get theblanket off the baby. He gives the kid a hug, and you admonish him to be morecareful. Is it any wonder that your toddler is confused?

Teach:Your first goal is to protect the baby. Your second, to teach your older childhow to interact with his new sibling in proper ways. You can teach your toddlerhow to play with the baby in the same way you teach him anything else. Talk tohim, demonstrate, guide and encourage. Until you feel confident that you’veachieved your second goal, however, do not leave the children alone together.Yes, I know. It isn’t convenient. But it is necessary, maybe even critical.

Hover:Whenever the children are together, “hover” close by. If you see your childabout to get rough, pick up the baby and distract the older sibling with asong, a toy, an activity or a snack. This action protects the baby whilehelping you avoid a constant string of “Nos,” which may actually encourage theaggressive behavior.

Teach soft touches:Teach the older sibling how to give the baby a back rub. Tell how this kind oftouching calms the baby, and praise the older child for a job well done. Thislesson teaches the child how to be physical with the baby in a positive way.

Act quickly: Everytime you see your child hit, or act roughly with the baby, act quickly. Youmight firmly announce, “No hitting, time out.” Place the child in a time-outchair with the statement, “You can get up when you can use your hands in theright way.” Allow him to get right up if he wants – as long as he is carefuland gentle with the baby. This isn’t punishment, after all. It’s just helpinghim learn that rough actions aren’t going to be permitted.

Demonstrate: Children learn what theylive. Your older child will be watching as you handle the baby and learningfrom your actions. You are your child’s most important teacher. You aredemonstrating in everything you do, and your child will learn most fromwatching you.

Praise:Whenever you see the older child touching the baby gently, make a positivecomment. Make a big fuss about the important “older brother.” Hug and kiss yourolder child and tell him how proud you are.

Watch your words: Don’t blame everything on the baby. “We can’t go to the park; the baby’s sleeping.” “Be quiet, you’llwake the baby.” “After I change the baby I’ll help you.” At this point,your child would just as soon sell thebaby! Instead, use alternate reasons. “Myhands are busy now.” “We’ll go after lunch.” “I’ll help you in three minutes.”

Be supportive: Acknowledge your child’sunspoken feelings, such as “Things surehave changed with the new baby here. It’s going to take us all some time to getused to this.” Keep your comments mild and general. Don’t say, “I bet you hatethe new baby.” Instead, say, “It mustbe hard to have Mommy spending so much time with the baby.” or “I bet you wish we could go to the parknow, and not have to wait for the baby to wake up.” When your child knowsthat you understand her feelings, she’ll have less need to act up to get yourattention.

Give extra love:Increase your little demonstrations of love for your child. Say extra I loveyous, increase your daily dose of hugs, and find time to read a book or play agame. Temporary regressions or behavior problems are normal, and can be easedwith an extra dose of time and attention.

Get ‘em involved:Teach the older sibling how to be helpful with the baby or how to entertain thebaby. Let the older sibling open the baby gifts and use the camera to take picturesof the baby. Teach him how to put the baby’s socks on. Let him sprinkle thepowder. Praise and encourage whenever possible.

Making each feel special:Avoid comparing siblings, even about seemingly innocent topics such as birthweight, when each first crawled or walked, or who had more hair! Children caninterpret these comments as criticisms.

Take a deep breathand be calm. This is a time of adjustment for everyonein the family. Reduce outside activities, relax your housekeeping standards,and focus on your current priority, adjusting to your new family size.

Excerpted withpermission by NTC/Contemporary Publishing Group Inc. from Perfect Parenting,The Dictionary of 1,000 Parenting Tips by Elizabeth Pantley, copyright 1999
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