Dealing with Sibling Rivalry When Your New Baby Arrives

Dani Milton
November 4, 2020

Having a baby is a major adjustment for many families, especially for older children who are welcoming a new brother or sister for the first time. Once the baby arrives, your children may inevitably fear that their place within your family has changed. These fears can ignite sibling rivalry between your kids. Your older children may throw more tantrums after the baby's birth. They may act aggressively toward their younger sibling, including pinching, prodding and throwing things at them. But what is sibling rivalry, and how can you handle your children's emotions so they don't get out of control? In this article, you'll learn several ways to manage your children's sibling rivalry after the new baby arrives.

What is Sibling Rivalry?

Sibling rivalry is an ongoing competition, aggression, or conflict between siblings raised in the same family. It can occur between blood-related, adopted, foster, or step-siblings. This tension can take the form of: Verbal fights or harassment

  • Physical fighting or abuse
  • Name-calling
  • Tattling and bickering
  • Being in constant competition for parental affection
  • Voicing feelings of envy

Most parents worry that sibling rivalry will have a harmful, long-term impact on their children. They believe that their young kids will:

  • Lack empathy for their siblings or other people
  • Suffer from a range of self-esteem issues if the fights happen regularly
  • Not care about other people’s feelings
  • Never stop fighting
  • Become bullies
  • Have poor relationships as adults
  • Get physically or emotionally hurt

What Causes Sibling Rivalry?

Parenting experts say that sibling rivalry is inevitable in families that have two or more children. According to C.S. Motts Children's Hospital at Michigan Medicine, there are several reasons sibling rivalry occurs in families. Your children may feel threatened by the new baby.

Your kids may compete with their siblings to prove they are unique individuals with separate identities. They'll show their differences by pursuing independent activities, hobbies and interests.

Your children may instigate fights if they believe you don’t give them enough attention or discipline.

Family dynamics also play a critical role in sibling rivalry. For instance, you may believe a child reminds you of a relative you don’t like, and these traits may influence how they treat the child.

Siblings may fight more when parents believe aggression is an acceptable way to resolve conflicts.

Fights between your children may increase if you don’t spend enough quality time with them at meals or other activities. It may lead to increased conflict between your kids.

Stressful situations may cause friction that increases your children’s frustration and leads to fights.

Children may not know how to get positive attention from siblings or how to start play, so they start fights or pick on them instead.

They may instigate fights when they're bored, frustrated or hungry.

Stress in their parents' lives can decrease the amount of attention they receive and increase sibling rivalry.

If sibling rivalry gets out of control, it may be wise to seek help from a child psychologist or family counselor to help children work through their sibling rivalry issues. Your insurance policy may pay for these treatments. If it does not, can you shop for a plan that covers these appointments using SmartFinancial’s insurance tools. Just complete the form on this page, and we’ll provide you with quotes and coverage from local insurers within your area.

Have Your Child Discuss their Feelings About the New Baby

Experts say parents should encourage older children to speak about their genuine feelings about the baby. Ask your kids to describe their authentic emotions, positive or negative, about their new brother or sister, without silencing them. Allow your children to talk about their full range of emotions, including their worries, jealousies, sadness, confusion and loneliness.

Try to understand your children's negative emotions instead of fixing their feelings. When children cannot openly express themselves, these negative sentiments won't disappear into the abyss; they become buried in their subconscious mind, instead. Instead of being released, your children will end up having nightmares or ailments like stomachaches, nausea, headaches or physical pains.

For instance, your oldest child may say, "I wish the baby would go away." Instead of scolding your child, reply, "I'm glad you told me because now I know how you feel." The statement acknowledges your children's feelings and gives them license to feel them. If you tell your children, “You didn't mean to say that about the baby,” it will not change their underlying behavior and may confuse them. You can be silly about the situation too, but be careful not to minimize your older children’s feelings during the process.

Prepare Your Child for the New Baby’s Arrival

If you’re an expecting parent, don’t wait until your infant arrives to tell them that a new baby’s on the way. Instead, take proactive steps to help them build a positive, nurturing relationship with their new siblings. Here are a few practical steps you can take to diffuse petty jealousies that your toddlers may feel toward their baby brother or sister.

1. Tell endearing stories about your older children’s time as babies

Months before your baby’s arrival, tell your older children positive stories about their babyhood. While relaying these stories, show your child pictures of each phase of their life. Tell your child that their new brother or sister will also go through similar phases. Describe the night that they were born. Were there any special events that occurred just before they arrived? What occurred in the first few months of their lives? Were they happy babies? Did they cry a lot, or did they sleep throughout the night? What were their favorite foods, blankets or toys? How old were they when they first started walking or talking? What were their first words? You can also recall funny stories you remember about their babyhood. You can even tell them if they enjoyed being hugged, kissed, or falling asleep in your arms.

2. Tell Your Child that You’re About to Have a Baby

Months before your baby’s arrival, tell your older children positive stories about their babyhood. While relaying these stories, show your child pictures of each phase of their life. Before the baby arrives, explain to your older children that they have a new brother or sister coming soon. You can tell them that the baby is like a small seed in your tummy like they were once upon a time. Your older child may be confused or struggle with the idea that they were a small child growing inside of your belly. Don’t delay telling your children about their sibling; instead, tell them you’re pregnant around the same time you tell your spouse, family, and friends. You can use children’s books to help your toddlers understand your pregnancy in age-appropriate terms. As your belly grows, your child may understand that you’re pregnant. You can also help them understand by allowing them to feel your tummy when the baby kicks. You can allow your children to communicate through your bump to speak with their new brother or sister. Another way you can help your child understand your pregnancy is to take them along with you during your prenatal visits at your obstetrician’s office. Speak with your practitioner to see if this is acceptable during the pandemic. If you cannot bring them into the office, you can ask your physician if you can make a recording of your baby’s fetal heartbeat, so your child can listen to it.

3. Explain What Will Happen After You Give Birth

Your child should understand what it can expect once the baby arrives. Don’t paint a rosy picture and tell your toddler that everything will be wonderful; instead, give a realistic story that will help kids understand what they can expect. For instance, tell your older children that they may not always enjoy being around the baby. Sometimes their new brother or sister may be loud, cranky, crying, or smelly. When this occurs, tell them they can come for a nice warm hug when they have negative emotions. Parents should also explain the upcoming schedule changes that will affect older children. For example, if you cannot pick your child up from school because you’ll be recovering in the hospital after you give birth, be honest with your kids. Tell them that a trusted person will pick them up instead of you. Reassure your child that everything will be okay. Tell them that you’ll still love them even after their new brother or sister arrives. It may take them a few months to understand this concept, so be patient with them.

4. Ask Older Kids to Help you Prepare for the Baby

Before giving birth, ask your older child if they will help you prepare for the baby’s arrival. This step will help your child feel they are also responsible for the baby’s care. For instance, when shopping for your infant, ask your child to help you pick out clothes for your infant. You can ask what colors they like for the baby. You can also ask them to help with selecting decorations for the child’s room.

5. Adjust Your Child’s Routine Before the Baby Arrives

It’s essential to help your older child to adjust to any significant changes before your new infant arrives. For example, if your children may see you as their primary caretaker. If your partner has to take care of your kids for a few weeks, let them know before you enter the hospital. It will help reassure them that your spouse, relative, or friend will look after them for a few weeks. If you have to make adjustments in your home to accommodate the baby, do this before your child arrives. Make these significant changes weeks before you give birth. This step will help your child understand that their new place or bedroom is theirs, rather than the baby’s room.

6. Explain What Will Happen When You Give Birth

Before you give birth, tell your children that you’ll be in the hospital. If you plan to give birth at home, tell your child you will have the baby in the house. Even though you’re away at the hospital, your child may be upset that you're gone. Tell them if you will have to stay with a friend, babysitter, or relative watch them while you stay in the hospital. You can make a practice run two weeks before you have the baby. You can drive your children by the hospital and tell them you plan to give birth inside the facility. It will help your kids feel that they are a part of the process. You can also start taking pictures of your child with their new brother and sister to help them feel as if they’re a part of their brother's or sister’s life.

How to Decrease Sibling Rivalry

There are several things you can do to ensure your baby’s transition into your home is an enjoyable, harmonious event.

1. Ask your older children to help you with the babyhood – Give your child minor jobs when taking care of your baby. It can include retrieving diapers for their baby brother or sister. You can even ask them to grab some towels or wet wipes to clean the baby. If the baby cries, you can have your toddler sing to them or talk to them gently. You can even have them hold the baby, as long as you stay close.

2. Ask your child for your advice – You can involve your child in selecting clothing for their new baby sister or brother. Ask your child if they believe their sibling would rather wear a blue onesie or a white one. You can even ask for suggestions about how to keep the baby entertained.

3. Be prepared for aggression – Don’t be surprised if your older child cannot control their feelings of jealousy or irritation. They may throw objects at the new baby or try to harm them. Some may try to make it look accidental. This aggression is normal. If you see your child being aggressive, step in immediately. Admonish them and tell them that it’s not nice to harm the baby. Encourage the child to express how they feel without making them feel bad.

4. Teach your child to protect the baby – You can help your older children interact with their new sibling in positive ways. Teach them to play with the baby by guiding, encouraging, and demonstrating the right ways. Even when you’re confident they’ve learned the right way, don’t leave your children alone with the baby.

5. Hover close by – Always watch closely when your child interacts with the baby. If you see your child getting rough, distract them with a song, toy, activity or snack. This precaution will protect the baby while preventing you from saying a constant string of “No’s” which may actually increase your older child’s aggression.

How to Help Children Get Along Build Closer Relationships

The Cleveland Clinic recommends five steps that parents can work to reduce sibling rivalry within their family dynamic. 1. Stay quiet and calm to maintain control – Pay attention to what your children’s actions so you can intervene before a situation begins to get out of hand. When admonishing your kids, keep calm, and your kids will follow your lead.

2. Create a relaxed, cooperative environment – Don’t compare your children when disciplining your children. Additionally, don’t favor one child over another or encourage competition between them. Instead, create an opportunity for your children to cooperate and compromise. Additionally, you should set a good example for your children. If your children see that you slam the door or have loud arguments with your spouse, they may also mimic this behavior. Your children will more likely copy your behavior if they see you handling your issues calmly.

3. Celebrate your children’s individuality and personality – Your kids are less likely to fight if they believe you appreciate them as individuals. You can build this trust by avoiding pigeonholing them with negative labels. Let them know how special they are by spending time with them individually. If one child loves to play football, grab a ball and throw it. If another child loves reading books, ask them to talk about what they’ve read. You can even take your children for a hot chocolate at a local restaurant.

4. Schedule one-on-one-time with each child – Each day, spend a few minutes of uninterrupted time alone with each of your children. When you’re alone with your children, really listen to their feelings about your family. If they understand that you care about their feelings, they may be less likely to act out and become demanding. Additionally, you can ask them about one positive thing that the baby did during the day that they really liked.

5. Plan fun family time – You should find positive ways to spend time together as a family. For instance, you can have dinners, enjoy time at the park, and play games. These activities are a fine way for children to spend positive time together and bond. It will also give them less incentive to stop picking fights with one another and spend more quality time with you.

6. Treat kids fairly, not equally – Being fair to your kids is essential, but that doesn’t mean treating each one equally. Parents should tailor their punishments and rewards toward children’s individual needs. For instance, you don’t have to give kids the same toy. Instead, give your kids different toys appropriate for their interests and ages.

Within the first year of having a baby, you can buy health insurance any time, even outside the Open Enrollment Period. Also, do you need an insurance policy that can cover appointments with a family therapist? SmartFinancial can help. Just complete our quick form, and we’ll provide you with plans from different health insurance companies within your area. SmartFinancial is the quick, convenient, and intelligent way to find insurance coverage. Just begin by entering your zip code below.

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