How can I help my three year old adjust to having a new baby sister?
Q: I have a 3 yr old son and a 5 day old daughter. My son is my life and very spoiled and loved. He is a big helper with his baby sister and very involved. He feeds her, holds her and loves her. But he is now starting to get a little jealous and acting very bad. He doesn't listen to anything we say and does stuff he knows he's not suppose to. I know he is trying to adjust to the new situation but how do I get him to behave without spending all day yelling at him? I want him to feel loved like he always has. Help!
A: Dear ambirdie:
Best wishes on the new baby!
It is bound to be tough on your 3 year old son to have all the hullabaloo of a new little sister, and you are right that he is trying to adjust. It may take quite a bit of time before the family finds a new rhythm.
Meanwhile, I would try to relax as much as you can about your son's misbehavior. Don't let him do anything dangerous of course, but see if you can't minimize your yelling and criticism as much as possible. Spending ten or fifteen minutes playing with your son, all by himself, every morning and again every afternoon may help him to feel less abandoned. Give him a big hug and a kiss whenever you can, and tell him how much you love him. See whether or not you might be able to find a temporary helper in the home during the day--a relative or friend or someone to lend a hand with practical matters for a few hours so that you are less frazzled and more able to give your son your uninterrupted time and attention. Maybe Dad can take a few days off to spend some time with the 3 year old or to pitch in with some of the household duties too.
Helping your older child find words for his feelings may be helpful as well. It can make parents feel bad to hear an older child say, "I hate this new baby!" but these jealous feelings are natural and inevitable. The parent can say, "Yes, it is OK to feel jealous. I understand that you hate the new baby sometimes but I can see that you also love the new baby too." The older child may feel very ashamed of these reactions, so putting the feelings into words will help him understand that he can be honest without the world coming to an end. Knowing that you accept his jealous emotions and that it is normal to feel this way will help him avoid the conclusion that he has been abandoned because of his shameful jealousy--which children often feel.
Eventually you will be able to convince both your son and your daughter that they are your life, so that they are both very spoiled and loved. Every child has a right to feel this way!
Elizabeth Berger MD
Child Psychiatrist and author of Raising Kids with Character
Answered by Dr. Elizabeth Berger