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Sibling Rivalry

There probably is not a perfect interval between children.
1. If they are 15 months old, they are not jealous and grow up in similar development stages. But what a hand full having two small infants in tow.
2. If they are 2 1/2 years old, they are potty trained and older but they are more jealous.
3. If they are 4 years apart, they can play independently, they are less jealous, you do not have two children in college at the same time, but they are older and in very different developmental stages.

Before birth:

1. You can not explain the impact to a small child below 4 years old on how a new baby is going to impact their lives.

2. You might take the older children to "sibling classes" given at many of the hospitals, but I do not think the younger children will understand.

3. You could, during the last month of pregnancy, take care of another infant all day long to show the child what will be taking place. That way they have previously experienced a baby being held and cared for by you. This is better than just holding one for a few minutes. That way when you bring home the baby they have seen this before and it is a familiar event.

When you take the baby home: (Obviously you should let them help you take care of the baby. Here are some other things to think about.)

1. The older child will show jealousy, especially when you are kissing on the baby. Just like when the mom and dad are kissing on the couch, the child will want to get in between them and join in on the kiss. This baby should get just as much kisses and hugs as the first one but move into it slowly. If you go home kissing and slobbering all over the baby, the older child will get upset. Increase the time you love on the baby slowly over 2 weeks, plus the baby needs allot of sleep time anyway. The first thing the older child sees in the morning when coming into the room should be the baby in the crib or on the bed rather in your arms. Give the older child a welcome kiss and hug and then pick the baby back up.

2. Keep the discipline the same and do not over react or under react. Some parents will go one extreme and say the child is going to be upset. So they let the child stand on the couch when they did not before, stay up late, have cookies, etc. and their whole world is falling apart. So same bedtime same everything. But then some parents will get harder on the child because they feel neglected and start getting into no-nos to get attention. They parent jumps on them harder and they start to feed on the negative attention, and go from one no-no to another. So same punishment for the same no-no's. Do not get harder or easier on them.

3. Keep the same routines of the day that are important to them. You will have to spend less time with them but their important times they look forward to must continue. For example: Daddy wrestles with them when he gets home and mommy reads them bed time stories.

4. Continue the normal seating in the car. If you have passenger air bags you do not want either child in the front. If you do not have front air bags, and you were putting the older child in the front, do not now put the baby in the front so you can watch them and demote the older child to the back seat. Put the baby in the back seat facing backwards (it is safer) and put the older child where you normally would. That also should not change.

5. Decide what you want to do with the older child when you are holding or feeding the baby. They will want to sit in your lap or have you read a book to them. Start the first day doing what you want to do rather than doing one thing for awhile and then stopping. It does not matter what you do in these situations, just do it consistently from the first day. But if you go home and the older child comes up when you are nursing the baby, and says "Read me this book, mommy." and try to read them the book while nursing. then after trying to do this for weeks, you realize you can't continue, you stop. They will get up set because you were doing it before and now won't do it because of the baby. So decide what you want to do with the older child when you go home and do it from day one. You can do different things when you are holding the baby verses holding the baby. Dad may do different things than Mommy. And you can better add on things later: My tummy is sore you cannot come up in my lap. Then latter: Now my tummy is better and you can come up here. It is when we stop doing something with our child that upsets them.

6. Regressive symptoms can occur but there are two categories. There is the true retarded regressive symptoms like wetting their pants after being dry, refuse to eat and be spoon fed, or suck on the breast or bottle again. There is another type of regressive symptoms where they are "playing baby." They will crawl on the floor or talk a little baby talk or try to climb in the crib again. You will see them play mommy or daddy and spank their dolly or teddy bear. They are role playing the adult and this is healthy. You usually do not punish them for doing that. So ignore the playing baby, it is OK. If they truly regress, then punish them the usual way like I said in the first part of this section. Keep the no-no's the same and the punishment for them the same. So if the child had a wetting accident before the baby came you would usually say "Please try to remember to come in when you need to go, so please go change your pants". Do not spank them or let them get away with it. Just approach them the usual way like before the baby came. Then when they realize they are not getting any more or less attention for it, then these will stop. But you probably will not see much true regression. You will see them play baby for years. When the new baby is 9 months old and crawling on the floor, the older child will be down there going goo-goo with them and so will Dad! In fact we have played baby too. It is fun and OK to do. If it is a true regressive symptom, then punish it the usual way. If they are playing baby, ignore it. The many things they do every day you have to decide if it is true regression or just playing baby. I tried to give examples here.

7. People bring presents for the older child when they bring presents for the baby. Actually I do not recommend this so let me explain. I think you should be fair with your children and if you take one out for ice-cream you take them both. But there are times when you do for one and not the other. We give them the same number of presents, pairs of shoes, and an automobile but we give it to them at different times. Birthday parties are a good example. If you have a party for one you typically don't give presents to all the children. And if one child has outgrown their shoes, you buy a pair for that child and not the other. So there are times when we do for one and not the other. At these times the other child will show some envy, and ask "What about me?". At these times you should teach the child how to get enjoyment out of giving and how you get pleasure out of seeing some one else get something. Therefore when a person comes over with a present for the baby and the older child says what about me, you should say something like "This is the baby's birthday and we are giving presents to the baby. It makes me happy to make others happy. Do you want to help unwrap it?" Involve them in the giving. Now they will not agree with it and still say "But I wanted something." And when the new baby is 1 year old and you buy him or her new shoes. The older one will say they want new shoes. You should say that it gives you pleasure to give to them. They still will not agree and say they want new shoes. And hopefully by adulthood will learn how to get enjoyment out of seeing someone else receive things. The most important lessons in life are painful, and they will learn slowly. We give our children the same presents, shoes and automobiles but we give it to them at different times. At these times teach them how to be generous. We all know some adults who are outwardly jealous of others who get things. Their parents did not teach them. They always gave both children something every time. That teaches them that every time brother gets something I should get something too. That teaches them to be selfish, gimme, me too attitude. If someone brings over a present for both and pulls them out. It is too late and let them give it. If you know about it you could try to make it two separate events. Give the older child something and then later pull out the present for the baby. The older child may suggest that the baby get something too. Praise them and then find something to give the baby like the thing they brought anyway.

8. Brain wash them into sharing later. The main jealousy is when the new baby is 1 year old and gets into the other child's toys. You might see the older child play with the baby's toy. State: "Gee it is fun for you to play with the baby's toys and I bet you will let him play with yours when he gets older." Plant the idea every week. The older child may in fact put one of their toys in the crib for the baby to play with. State in clear English: "Wow it is nice of you to let the baby play with your toy, and I bet she will let you play with hers when she gets bigger. It is good to share your toys." Keep planting the idea and the seed will grow all this year. Then they will do it reflexly later.

When the new baby is 1 year old. There are several articles and books you can read. I would like to mention a few points.

1. Side for the older child against the younger almost all the time. Your knee jerk reflex is to stick up for the baby. If you see one child just go up and kick or try to take something for the other, then discipline it and take care of it. But in the many times they are all of a sudden fighting over something, go in there and ask the older child what happened and believe them. They will get away with occasional white lie, but most of the time they are right. The older child is trying to learn to share and take turns. The baby will try to take anything from anybody. But if you just call out to make the older child give it to the baby because they will follow the instruction where the baby will not, then there will be allot of animosity built up this year. Here I am a 4 year old sitting playing with my trucks and the younger child comes up and tries to take it. I have the strength and height advantage and say "Hey I had it first." Mommy yells at me to give it to the 1 year old and it appears you love them more. So go in there and ask the older child what happened and believe them. Side for the older child more. You did not teach the first child they can have everything the second they wanted it. If you grow up with that attitude and do not learn to wait for things, then if you do not get them the stereo when they are a teenager, they may go out and steal it.

2. Do not go in and put the toy away from both of them yet. Ask the older child what happened and believe them. But if you were a 4 year old sitting and playing with your toy, and the 1 year old came in and tried to take it, you would not give it to them. The one year old will scream because you do not give it to them. Then Dad comes in and takes away the toy and you loose your toy because of baby brother. Again allot of animosity will build up this year if that happens. Just go in and ask the older what happened and take care of it. When the older child is playing with small toys that the younger child should not play with, then have these put up till the younger is taking a nap. Or just let the older child play with it on the table or in their room with the door locked. And also the older child should play some of the time with the baby and some with the older friends that they have with out interference by the baby. The older child needs some time to play by them selves with their own toys with their own imaginary friends. When the younger child is 3 and both can claim that they had it first, then you put the toy away from both of them.

3. Reward the good behavior as well as discourage the bad behavior. If you try to train a dog to sit up and beg, you don't spank him when he lies down, and when he runs, and then when he sits you walk away and ignore him. If you give him a treat when he sits, pretty soon he is sitting every time you go around him. So too with your children on the animal instinct level. However if they are sitting there playing good together, your tendency is to say "Shhhh. don't bother them." And then you give your attention (although negative) to their bad behavior, and you are unknowingly teaching them to fight. So when they are playing good together, go in and give them some attention with kind comments, a kiss or hug, and tell them they are good. Sit and play with them for a minute. Then get up and leave even though they will want you to stay. Just go back in and reward the good behavior. Just like the parent complains that the 2 year old whines all day. When asked what they do when they whine, they pick them up. If you ignore the whining and pick them up when the are quiet, you will train them to be quiet. But if you ignore the whining but do not reward them for being quiet, they will continue to whine. So pick them up when they are being good.

4. Teach them how to take turns. If you flip a coin when they argue who goes first, eventually when faced with the argument of who goes first, they will get their own coin and settle it themselves. Kids will use you to get after the other child.

Dr. Knapp