How to Help Her Cope
Here are ways to help a toddler deal with a sibling's arrival.
- Don't overreact. Never ridicule or punish a toddler who wants to go back to using a bottle or wearing diapers. If your potty-taught child has an accident, don't make too big a deal. He's seeking attention, so a negative reaction may give him what he's looking for -- and spawn further backtracking. Dr. Malik advises parents simply to say, 'Oh, did you have an accident? You must have forgotten. You'll remember to use the potty next time.'"
- Baby her a little. Don't say, "Stop acting like a baby," Wallace warns. That can cause anger to be directed at the infant. If your older child wants to try the bottle, give her one and let her take a few sips. Then gently find ways to get her back to the cup. You might even say, "Oh, you feel like acting like a baby right now? That's okay. But later, we'll go back to your big-girl things."
- Praise more mature behavior. Make it clear that your child doesn't have to act like a baby to attract attention. Get back into the habit of cheering all her small accomplishments, just as you did when she was the sole apple of your eye. And provide lots of opportunities for her to act grown-up. Ask her to fetch a diaper or to hold the sponge while you're giving the baby a bath. Follow up with hugs of gratitude: "Thank you so much, my big girl!"
- Compromise. When Lind's daughter asked to use diapers, her mother bought her training pants instead. The potty remained in full use, but Sidney felt that she'd gotten a bit of babying back and within a few days abandoned the training pants completely. If your child asks to breast-feed, she is probably interested only in the closeness that nursing provides. So offer your lap and lots of extra cuddles.
- Talk about feelings. Help your child understand what's going on. You might say, for instance, "There's been a change in our family. It used to be just Mom and Dad and you. We had so much time to be with you. But now your younger brother is here, and we have to share our time. That's hard for you. And it's hard for us, too, because we love spending time with you."
- Go one-on-one. Arrange for a friend or a baby-sitter to watch your baby so you can devote some time to your firstborn. Go to a museum, have a picnic, or simply take a long walk. Use the baby's nap as a special time to read, talk, or sing with your older child.
Understand, however, that no matter what you do, it will take time for your older child to get used to the enormous change that a new family member represents. So hang in there: Before you know it, you'll have two big kids on your hands -- and, if you're lucky, two very close friends.