Community Expert Q&A: Sibling Rivalry with Lori Gillaspie

Lori Gillaspie coordinates the Childbirth Education Program for Community Health Network's three Indianapolis hospitals.

How do I get my other child to behave while I breastfeed?

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Q. My 19-month-old daughter is very rough with my five-week-old son and gets upset when he needs to nurse. How do I get her to be gentle and realize that when he needs to eat, Mommy can't do anything else while feeding him. -madalynsmom

A. The concepts of sharing and patience are new--and big ones--for such a little person. Breastfeeding is a common acting up time for the exact reason it frustrates you: You can't be as flexible while you're nursing. Try to think of all the things you can do while feeding, though, like cuddling next to your girl on the couch, or floor, or bed instead of feeding the baby in a chair. My favorite tip is to read with your older child. Watching a video together is great too; or just have her play beside you. Make lots of eye contact, talk, and when you can get a hand free, pat her. Let her know that it doesn't hurt you when the baby is nursing, and that he won't always eat so often. Talk about two things you could do together when the baby naps, and let her choose. And remember: It will get better!

Should I wait, or have baby number two now?

Q. We have a two-year-old daughter and I am thinking about getting pregnant again. I'm trying to figure out what would be best for the family: I'm going to nursing school right now and am very busy, but I don't want to wait and have a four- year gap between my kids. -mtucker

A. Don't worry about finding the perfect age difference. Any child of any age will be making the adjustment of going from the only child to the older child. And a newborn won't really be a playmate for any age for a while. An older child can better understand concepts like patience, sharing, compassion, and cooperation--which come in very handy! Remember, every parent wants their children to be close, but personality, gender, and interests may also determine how much time they spend playing together--and that doesn't mean they don't love each other. So trust your instincts to wait until things slow down a bit, or there's more of a regular routine. If they live in an atmosphere where there's enough time and energy and affection for everyone, your kids' age difference won't matter.

How do I get him to behave?

Q. Our three-year-old son is always yelling at our ten-month-old son, causing him to scream. It is getting to the point where I am going nuts trying to get them to co-exist. -gabeskynzach

A. Here's what your older son might be thinking: Little brothers can be fun, especially when mom and dad are busy! And yet they change so much during the first year that little brothers can be a nuisance: When they start crawling they can invade my stuff and follow me around all the time. They're not like toys that can be very entertaining and then put away when you're tired of them. Here's what you can do: Play up your little one's nap as a time when your older child can play with his own big-boy toys (don't make everything community property) without the baby knocking things over or putting them in his mouth. Also, don't feel like the equal time you spend with each needs to be planned, or structured, or the same--that can be tiring for all of you.

Is she being aggressive for a reason?

Q. I have three daughters (ages eight, six, and almost two) and am having a terrible time with the oldest picking on the middle one. She takes out all of her aggressions on her, even taking a swing at her if she's frustrated. My middle girl wants nothing more than her sister's approval and tries so hard to please her. What can I do? -vabeach

A. Get one-on-one with your eldest and ask why she gets so angry with her sister. Maybe she's behaving well elsewhere, like school--that's hard work to be good all day. (What's the old story about the man being nice to the boss and then comes home and kicks the dog?) Your daughter might think the two-year-old is off limits because she's so much smaller, but the six-year-old is fair game because they are closer in age and size.

My oldest and middle went through a similar period, until the oldest was finally able to put into words that he felt the middle was "the smart one." After that, we made sure each child knew they could all enjoy school, sports, or any other activity, and that there was no such thing as "our smart one" or "our pretty one."

Is this sibling rivalry or is there something more?

Q. I look after a little boy who is three and has a little sister who will be one. She just started crawling. He was formerly a very well behaved child, but over the last few weeks, he has turned into a whiny cry-baby. He talks in baby talk, and he clings when either of his parents leave. He also just started potty training, so maybe that has something to do with it. What can I do? -mannah

A. Whining, crying, clinging, baby talk, and trouble separating from mom can all be reactions to change. Sometimes really well behaved children don't want to upset mom and dad by being aggressive, so their stress shows up this way. It could be that he's more bothered by a sister starting to crawl than a newborn girl. So that may explain why this has just been going on a few weeks. But the potty training sounds like the issue to me. It may be the only stress, or it may be the straw that broke the camel's back after dealing with a new sister all year. Did he show signs that he was ready to do this? Or did the parents feel the need to get it done by his birthday next month? (Sometimes day care requires it, sometimes grandparents pressure parents.) Maybe he's trying to tell everyone with the babyish behavior "I guess I'm still a baby, because I can't do this yet, please back off for a few weeks and then try again." Just be sure to let him know how much you love him.

How do I explain that another baby is coming to my daugher?

Q. I have an 18-month-old daughter and am expecting my second child in less than two months. She does not have the concept that another child is arriving. I have had her help me in the baby's room to set things up, and also gotten her a gift from the baby for when we bring him home. I'm just looking for any words of wisdom that could make the transition easier on us all. -ilovemygirl

A. My favorite question! This is what I love to do--help parents prepare sister-to-be. The things you've done are great. For a child under two:

  • Don't make major changes in their routine (potty, crib, et cetera)
  • Let her spend time now with the person who will be watching her when you are in labor
  • Have her spend even more time with Dad now
  • Let her be around babies
  • Encourage visitors to greet your daughter first when they come to see the new baby Plus, picture books are great! I recommend: I'm A Big Sister by Joanna Cole and for parents, Welcoming Your Second Baby by Vicki Lansky.

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