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Sibling Rivalry - Tips to help your toddler prepare and adjust to the new baby

By Kristen Colello-Learnard

If you are pregnant, have a new baby or have more than one child at home, chances are that you will face some sibling rivalry. Sibling rivalry is a normal part of every day family living. In fact, it is not only normal and natural, but inevitable. Any time there are two individuals with unique personalities, whether they are adults or children, there is the potential for conflict.

Why does sibling rivalry occur?
Sibling rivalry occurs because each child wants undivided attention and love from Mom and Dad. Parents who foster a degree of fondness and a friendly connection between children are more likely to raise children who will be friendly toward one another. Before the baby arrives, toddlers (ages 3-5) need to feel secure in their relationship with their parents for a smooth transition. Set reasonable limits for your child and then follow through with consistency.

toddlers thrive when routines are incorporated into their daily schedule. While most of your child's day should consist of creative play, you should try to incorporate 20 minutes of reading time and a few hugs and a kiss or two into your child's schedule. Limit quality educational television to no more than two hours a day.

If your toddler's behavior is extremely challenging you may find it helpful to attend a parenting class.

Suggestions for preparing your toddler for the new baby:

  • Take your toddler to a sibling tour at the hospital/birthing center.
  • Let your toddler purchase a gift for the baby.
  • Give your toddler a life-like baby doll and practice caring for the baby.
  • Be honest about how much attention the baby will need.
  • Honor the big brother/sister by having a "big brother/sister" party.
  • Although most toddlers will be eager to assist you with the new baby, feelings of ambivalence are typical. Hearing about the baby is very different from experiencing how it really feels to be a big sister or brother.

Suggestions for helping your toddler adjust to the new baby:

  • Spend time alone with your child on a daily basis and let him suggest a play activity.
  • Ask him for some assistance or suggestions. For example, "Should we give the baby the green pacifier or the blue pacifier?"
  • Spend time with him while the baby is awake.
  • Avoid labeling him. If you tell others that your child is "is a terrible listener"-your toddler will not prove you wrong!
  • Keep the lines of communication open with your toddler. Include in the bedtime routine a time for asking your toddler about the best thing and the worst thing that happened during the day.
  • Never discount your toddler's feelings. Instead of saying, "You have been impossible since the baby has been born", say, "I know it is hard to be a big brother or sister at times."
  • Teach your toddler how to express any negative feelings about the baby in socially acceptable ways. Teach your child to say, "I'm angry" instead of "I want you to go away" or to stomp on the ground or hit the knock-down clown instead of hitting the baby.
  • Be patient and maintain positive discipline techniques. It takes years for children to develop social skills. Most important, keep in mind that parents are the primary role models in the home.
Resources: Parents & Caregivers:
Siblings Without Rivalry: How to help your children live together so you can too!, by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, ($9.60).
He Hit Me First: When brothers and sisters fight, by Louis Ames, et al.
Loving Each One Best: A caring and practical approach to raising siblings, by Nancy Samalin, (Bantam Books, $13.95).
The Berenstain Bears; New Baby, by Stan and Jan Barenstein, (Random House, $3.25).
The New Baby: A Mister Rogers; first experience book, by Fred Rogers, (Paperstar, $4.79).

Kristen Colello-Learnard is a Certified Parent Educator at Naramake Public Elementary School in Norwalk and at Dr. David Bonheim's office, Trumbull.

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