Helping Kids Adjust to Life With the New Baby

I’d just landed at LAX and was waiting at the baggage claim carousel when I heard an angry exchange. I turned toward the adjacent carousel and saw a three or four-year-old girl decked out in a colorful traveling ensemble – brightly patterned leggings, a trendy t-shirt and pink plastic movie star sunglasses. She seemed to be fumbling for something in her polka dot backpack while her father glared at her and seethed, “Just be nice. Be nice to your sister!”

Several feet away stood her mother, who also glared as she held baby sister (about 12 months old) in her arms. The girl kept her composure but avoided her parents’ gaze. She seemed alone and vulnerable — a “problem child” estranged from her family.

If this mini-snapshot was typical of her family dynamic, it was hard to fathom this little girl not feeling resentment towards her baby sister.

The arrival of a new baby is often the most dramatic change in a young child’s life, and if this transition isn’t handled with sensitivity and empathy, some children will have difficulty regaining their footing. At stake are our child’s healthy relationships with parents and siblings, as well as her sense of security and self-worth.

Here are some key points to keep in mind during this challenging adjustment:

1. Have reasonable expectations

A new baby causes a major shift in the family dynamics. No matter how much the older child may have wished for a baby brother or sister, the reality of this shift in the parents’ attention and affection is felt as a loss. Children often feel grief, sadness and sometimes anger or guilt, but mostly they are fearful of losing their parents’ love. Overwhelmed by this tumultuous blend of emotions, which are nearly impossible for children to understand (much less articulate), they act out their pain through irritating behaviors that are sometimes aggressive. Mood swings can be extreme.

Parents might be shocked to discover an unpleasant side to their child they hadn’t known existed, especially if they expected her to be a loving, adoring and helpful big sister during this adjustment. These behaviors are bound to push parents’ buttons, yet since the child is experiencing an emotional crisis she needs the assurance of her parents’ love and empathy more than ever.

2. Encourage children to express feelings

There are a couple of important ways parents can help children express their feelings in a healthy manner:

a. When children act-out with the baby — kissing or patting the baby too hard or jumping on the bed next to her — after calmly but confidently stating the boundary (“I can’t let you…”), the parent can ask matter-of-factly, “Are you feeling rough toward the baby right now? Are you upset that the baby’s here? Big sisters often feel that way. But I’m going to help you get down from the bed. I’d love for you to sit on my lap or jump on the floor next to me.”

b. Casually bring up the subject of negative feelings as often as possible: “Being a big sister is very hard sometimes. It’s normal to get angry at the baby or at mom or dad, feel sad, worry or just be upset and not know why. If you feel any of those things I want to know. I will always understand, love you and want to help you.”

It may feel counterintuitive to suggest these feelings to your child (won’t this encourage her to feel negatively toward the baby?). The truth is that the more you can openly accept and acknowledge, even welcome your child’s negative thoughts and emotions, the more space you will clear for your children to form a genuinely loving bond with their siblings.

3. But why mention negatives when my child seems fine?

Some children do seem to adapt to life with the new baby peacefully. Why would we project about problems that don’t exist?  It is my view that the children who seem more accepting and tolerant of this huge life change need even more encouragement to express negative feelings than those who overtly struggle. No matter how positive any change is there are also elements of fear and loss. For all of us.  If these feelings aren’t addressed and expressed, they are internalized. You may have a well-behaved child, but chances are good she’s suffering inside.

4. Avoid guilt-inducing comments  

When parents are expecting baby number two, friends and relatives will often comment to the firstborn child, “Oooh, bet you can’t wait to be a big sister!” But by then it’s already begun to dawn on the older child that ‘big sister’ isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  They’ve sensed that the focus of everyone’s attention has shifted away from them. Their future feels uncertain and it will only get worse. They need someone who understands their pain and can assure them that their mixed feelings (especially the negative ones) are perfectly valid, or they are likely to turn these feelings inward.

5. Don’t judge

Again, this is about adjusting our expectations and understanding that button-pushing behaviors are the manifestation of our child’s pain and confusion. When we label a behavior “not nice”, “mean” or “bad”, children take these judgments personally. It’s not only the behavior that’s bad — they are bad. When the people they trust and need most in the world tell them they are “not nice”, they believe it, and this rejection is profound.

6. Lessen tension by not sweating the small stuff

Second children are born into a much different environment than their big brothers or sisters. Having an older sibling is exciting. So as much as possible, let it be. Let it be noisier and more chaotic, and let there be more interruptions to the baby’s playtime. Let big sister take toys away from the baby when they’re “playing together” as long as this is physically safe. Understand that this impulse is powerful and symbolic of the rivalry the older child feels. Most babies don’t mind the toys being removed from them unless their parents do.  In fact, this is the way they “play” with another child. The less you focus on these harmless behaviors, the less compelling it will be for the older child to repeat them.

7. Understand your child’s need for trust and autonomy 

Ask for her help whenever possible, especially regarding the baby’s care. When children’s emotions are out of control, opportunities to feel autonomous have a calming effect. But also don’t be disappointed if your child turns you down, because saying “no” is also a way for her to feel autonomous.

8. One-on-one time

Periods of time alone with your children are a necessity, but for both the baby and the older child it’s about quality, not quantity. Set aside at least 20 minutes a day in which you are wholly present and focused on your older child (which might mean aiming toward giving the baby an earlier bedtime). Then, when you need to focus on the baby and your child struggles, you can calmly acknowledge, “I see how uncomfortable it is for you when I am feeding the baby. That is really hard for you, I know. I’m so looking forward to our time together tonight after the baby goes to bed. Think about what you’d like to do together.”

9. Foster the baby’s independent play

A baby who can self-entertain is even more of a blessing the second time around, because his or her independent play creates opportunities for parents to be available to the older child without the baby always between them. Provide a safe, enclosed play space (a crib or playpen is fine for the first months), so that the baby doesn’t need constant supervision. Your toddler will probably need this boundary, because the impulse to test the parents by bothering the baby can be strong.

10. Respect your children’s continued need for boundaries and calm, helpful parents who are “on their side”.

Although extreme exhaustion or guilt might lead us to ease up on boundaries during this period of transition and emotional turmoil, our children need the love and security of our limits now more than ever. They’ll need us to give them matter-of-fact reminders like, “I don’t want you to touch the baby when you are in a jumpy mood”; choices like, “You can stay next to me quietly while I put the baby to bed, or play in the next room.” Sometimes they’ll need us to follow through by gently but firmly physically containing them or removing them from situations. Most crucially, they’ll need us to intervene way before we lose our temper or think they’re “not nice” and with all the confidence, calmness, patience and empathy we can muster.

 For more inspiration, please check out my complete guide to respectful discipline:

NO BAD KIDS: Toddler Discipline Without Shame

For more about new babies and sibling rivalry in general, I appreciate these perspectives:

Siblings Without Rivalry by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish (one of my all-time favorite parenting books)

Ask the Parent Coach: 7 Ways to Help Your Child Adjust to a New Baby by Susan Stiffelman

A Call for Sunshine and Enlightened by Nadine Hilmar

Sibling Conflicts by Lisa Sunbury

Dealing With Sibling Aggression by Amanda Morgan


Please share your comments and questions. I read them all and respond to as many as time will allow.

  1. Thank you for this! Just what I needed! My son is definitely the ‘well-behaved’ one you mentioned who internalizes his negative feelings. I’ve been trying to empathize – I’ll try harder! 🙂

    1. Sounds like he has you in his corner, Lindsey. Bodes well!

    2. avatar carr the daddy metcalfe says:

      i have to say in all honesty my LO has just become a big bro to my DD and he has been a superstar with her, all we do is have him help us by pushing the pram with our guide of course fetching nappies and making bottles with me so he feels like he has a part to play in her upbringing, he has adjusted well to her arrival and could not be prouder of him although 2 kids is tiring

  2. i have said to many growing families, do not say the words, ‘new baby’. it makes the old baby nervous. always say , another baby , so they feel included still in the baby part of this whole change.

    1. Thank you for sharing, babz. I hadn’t thought of that, but it makes a lot of sense.

    2. We have used “the second baby” and it’s worked great.

    3. avatar Michelle G. says:

      Yep. I say “You’ll always be my first baby.” It gives my daughter a firm place to be… no matter how many more babies I have.

  3. avatar Rebecca B. says:

    Great suggestions here. Thanks for writing on this topic and providing the extra links as well. I would use caution, however, about using the airport as a reflection of family dynamics. Both children and adults are tired and stressed, and hopefully act differently in familiar settings.

      1. To be honest, I’ve read this post over 5 times since discovering you Janet. I’ve always felt touched by it but tonight it brought tears to my eyes. I’m beginning to see how my older daughter feels in our family. Most of the time I can block aggressive behaviour and we spend time together briefly talking about the change in our family (my youngest will be 1 just before Christmas) but there are still occasions when I lose my cool and get mad or frustrated when the baby gets hurt due to aggressive behaviour.

        Thank you Janet for teaching me better ways to handle this change in our family dynamic. There’s always room for improvement on my end.

  4. Thank you for this! Our second just arrived a few days ago and our eldest is turning two this month. Some of the suggestions in this post seem a bit beyond her age and vocabulary, but the spirit of it all applies well.

    I was just saying to my husband yesterday that one advantage to our eldest being so young for this transition is that our expectations for her behaviour are still pretty basic, and “acting out” is a normal part of our lives anyway. Another way of saying this is that with an older child (like the girl in the airport) it might be more tempting to have too-high expectations. We take every sweet and helpful moment with gratitude and every “acting out” moment with as much love and patience as we can. The first few days have lined up quite well with my expectations thus far. Here’s hoping that bodes well for the months to come!

    I should mention that my instinct with all of this has been to not play up the whole “big sister” thing too much. It just seems like such a loaded term with all kinds of unspoken expectations, especially since my eldest is still so young. I have tried to just focus on various specific realities of siblinghood without using that Big Label. I’m sure there are many perspectives on this, but I just went with my gut.

    1. Brigitte, you have wonderful instincts. Congratulations on your second baby!

  5. of course i love this post!! well, i love them all… but this one definitely resonates!!

    i’ve been thinking about you a bunch lately… things have been going really well over here… and all because of everything you wrote about in this post!

    i’m so glad to read this tonight, though… it made me realize that i’ve been getting irritated when d takes toys away from mush… this is a good reminder to let those little things go. if it’s not bothering her or hurting her, there is no need for me to step in.

    i hope you’re doing well too…
    thanks for another great post!!


    1. Thanks for your kind words, Sara! Glad to hear life is going well. It really does get easier, doesn’t it?

  6. I am experiencing this with my 8 month old son and 3 year old daughter. My 3 year old was ‘fine’ for the first 4 months of her new brother’s life, and then the reality of his permanence set in. Now she finds ways to pinch him, kick him or hit him with objects “accidentally”. I am struggling to get there in time to say “I won’t let you……”. What can I say after the fact??? Adding to her stress, we moved into our new house a week after my son’s birth. Every few days she mentions how much she misses our old house and wants to move back there….(it was a temporary rental, very worn and ragged, and rather boring for her compared to our new house….and we were only there for three months) but after reading this article, I’m thinking that she is missing more than the house. She brings it up when she is having a particularly hard day with me, testing and whatnot.

    1. “I’m thinking that she is missing more than the house.” Vanessa, that’s insightful of you. Whenever possible I would indulge your daughter regarding her feelings about the house. “Oh, you miss our old place so much! That is such a hard feeling!”

      Moving is a “loss” for children also. This was a place she knew intimately and felt very comfortable in. Children don’t care about “worn and ragged” or small and boring, etc. They like what they know. I believe she does miss the house tremendously, along with missing her life before the baby tremendously.

      Regarding what to say “after the fact” of your daughter’s behavior with her brother, I would just give a kind, light reminder like, “Please be gentle with your brother. If you are feeling excited, angry or rough, please come to me. I will listen. I want to help you.” Then I’d quickly drop it and move on.

      1. Thank you Janet. I tend to dwell and draw things out when I have a limit to discuss with her, and I think it’s making these interactions more difficult. I needed to hear “quickly drop it and move on”! Thank you! I thought about it more last night and I’m going to print out photos of the ‘old’ house for her to look at and reminisce if she would like. You are right, she just felt differently about the house than I did… I didn’t like the ‘old’ house as it was large, dirty and had no yard, where as our new place is small, cozy and has an amazingly playful backyard. That is why I was kept being surprised that it was that ‘old’ house that she wanted to go back to.

      2. We moved to a new house in a new city, from a warm climate in a nice larger house with pool and bucolic neighborhood to a northern, cold, urban city . . . without a pool. This occurred about a month after our son’s birth. We moved 3.5 months ago and she talks about the old house all the time. And I bought a new car for my wife. The differences are rather stark between one place and one house and the other, plus her new baby brother. I honestly feel a lot of guilt about it. Thank you for the info, it’s helpful, the reality is we chose to put together a lot of changes all at once and it has been difficult for everyone, most of all our little girl who has the worst ratio of desire for control versus actual ability to control her life.

        1. Manny, it makes a lot of sense that your daughter’s having a hard time… She lost the only home she knew…and she lost a great deal of her parents’ focus and attention…and she worries that she lost your love, too. The sensitivity you have to her feelings will make a big difference.

    2. avatar Michelle Pariat Mehta says:

      Omg! The penny just dropped for me! Our eldest always says she misses our old house too- We moved a month before our second child was born. I think there will be a lot more one on one time from now on. Before now I used to think the 20 min time for each child (we have 3) was a bit of a stretch but it would probably be worth every second in emotional health. Thank you both Janet and Vanessa.

  7. Thanks you so much for sharing my link, Janet. It’s always such an honor to have my work recognized by you, and in such amazing company!

    1. Thanks for all the wonderful work you do to support families, Amanda!

  8. I appreciate the sentiments expressed here, though think that it is worth also mentioning the amazing adaptive abilities that children have. Supporting children to identify and articulate emotion and have it validated by a responsive parent is invaluable, and doesn’t require labelling those emotions as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. So regardless of the sibling feeling proud to be ‘big sister’ or disappointed that she missed out on something, the child’s emotions are consistently being reflected and counted as real.

    I was disturbed by the attitude of judgement based on your small observation, confirming every parent-whose-child-has-tantrumed-in-public’s fear that their impatient response must reflect to everyone watching that they are parenting inadequately or not meeting their child’s attachment needs.

    What if someone were to write a blog entry about a lady who observed a family at an airport, cast judgement on them, then wrote a blog about what they must have done wrong?

    It may seem a little pedantic, I know, but I think that parents struggle with feeling judged by other parents, and your blog should be able to provide helpful information without colluding with judgement, which is so common in our culture.

    1. Josh, I appreciate your feedback…and ‘judgment’ (if you will) of my response. I would never judge the family of a child having a tantrum. Tantrums are healthy, typical responses to stress for young children. This child was not having a tantrum and I don’t know what she did to cause her parents’ anger and ‘judgment’ (there’s that word again). For me, this interaction exemplified a common pattern of response that creates the kinds of problems most parents don’t want to create. And that’s why I used it in this post.

      From my 18 years of experience working with parents who struggle with their children’s behavioral issues, I feel certain this was not a one-time response. In fact, the parents’ past responses very likely led to their child behaving the way she did and angering them at the airport. These are dynamics that parents unwittingly fall into with the most loving intentions, because they don’t understand why their children behave the way they do…and they take behavior personally rather than giving children the limits (with empathy and support) that they need.

      Suggesting that this was not a one-time response does not mean I judge these as “bad” parents (I don’t) or don’t empathize with them (I do).

      1. I appreciate your response here to “Josh” and it helped me to feel better about the concerns I had upon reading the initial blog post. But I still feel compelled to share that I felt very uncomfortable reading the article and it bothered me for awhile afterward. I completely agree with and appreciate all of the points you made in the body of the post, as I usually do. But I couldn’t shake the uncomfortable feeling it gave me to hear about that family in the introduction. It doesn’t matter to me how correct you are in your assessment of that family’s dynamic, it is still impolite and inappropriate to speak about their failings as parents in such a public space. I really enjoy your blog and have shared it with friends repeatedly, but this didn’t feel respectful to me.

        1. Jan, thank you for sharing your thoughts. I find it interesting that both you and Josh perceived my observation as a description of a family’s “failings”, when I only reported what I saw and did not use judgmental terms to describe it. With all respect, I think these judgments might be coming from you, not me. I will admit that I identify with toddlers (which may be why I seem to be especially helpful to parents dealing with toddler issues), and I felt for this little girl. The memory of this event has stayed with me.

          1. Hmm. I read and re-read the introduction, and nowhere do I get the vibe of ‘judgment’ in Janet’s introduction. She relayed what she saw.

            I also want to add that stressful situations bring out what is already present in a family dynamic. The issues don’t suddenly appear.

            1. Yes, yes, yes! I am this child – or I was this child. How my mother treated me in public when things were tense mirrored how she treated me at home. Parents who glare at their kids in public glare at them at home. From my own experience growing up, which I know is not this particular child’s experience, I would guess that Janet is absolutely right.

              1. Yep. I was this child too. If it’s this way in public, it’s worse at home.

          2. I know this article is old, but I just wanted to give my feedback.

            I too found the opening of this article uncomfortably judgmental; it definitely took away from an otherwise helpful article. While you may have not used “judgmental terms,” you did juxtapose a story about this family with the proclamation of it being “hard to fathom this little girl ever feeling anything other than resentment towards her baby sister” because of the parents’ actions; I don’t really see how that is not saying the parents are parenting badly. Even if you did start the second statement with an “if,” I didn’t get the sense that you believed the parents behaving differently was much of a possibility, an inference that your responses to both Josh and Jan do seem to confirm. With all due respect, your “18 years experience,” does not qualify you to make assessments of strangers in the airport.

            It is insulting for you to try to push the judging off on your readers, especially considering the large number of comments about this very issue. If (and yes, I believe this “if” just about as much as you believed your “if”) you were not in fact being judgmental, the article was poorly written such that you caused quite a few people to feel like you were being judgmental. Neither your judgment nor your poor writing is a problem with the reader.

            If you want to maintain that you are not judging parents in this article, you would have a much stronger piece of writing here if you just cut out your opening. It adds nothing to the good advice you give and makes it harder for at least some readers to focus on your actual message.

            1. I really don’t understand how on earth it’s worth commenting on this article in this manner. Everyone has judgments are you some kind of saint?? Janet is offering gold wisdom and advice and it’s free and even if she thought the parents were parenting badly who cares?! Have you never thought “God I would never do that with my child”. Please.

        2. It’s an ancedote to illustrate a larger point, right? It’s part of the expository genre, not meant to be judgmental. Call it authorial license.

  9. This serves as a good reminder to us all. My eldest is 8 and my youngest is 1 and my eldest daughter has definately shown some of the signs you have mentioned here. I totally agree with the 1-1 time. I try and make sure we have that just before she goes to bed, so she sleeps knowing she has had my time exclusively.

  10. I am so thankful for this post Janet, I have been having some challenges with my 4 year old adjusting to having a sibling (3 weeks old) especially with patting or kissing to rough and seems very insistent on doing it his way can be so irritating, after being so busy and not so much online I decided to come to your page and hope to find something, is almost like a prayer was answered!

    I love what you mention about accepting things being more chaotic for the youngest, my husband was telling me that I had to let go of everything being so RIE or perfect and in that moment it hit me and I told him: “RIE is not being perfect, is about balance”. But I do struggle with finding balance between providing some peace for the baby and not wanting to change it all for my oldest. He is a bit loud on his play so I have been trying to help him understand that as long as he is on his play area or basically outside of the baby’s room is ok but he needs to respect his brother’s need for rest. What is a good way to encourage this?
    Sometimes he likes to come and be with me when I am nursing and he wants to get chatty or play, do I let go or how do I encourge him to choose a quiet activity? There are the times when the baby nurses upon waking up and we read books but others he insists on bringing specific toys and he can get pretty persistent.
    But all this you posted has given me the perspective I needed so much.

    1. Vanessa, I’m so glad you remembered: “RIE is not being perfect, is about balance”.

      It sounds like your 4 year old might need a little more clarity regarding your expectations. I would not shy away from letting him know that you will not allow him to interfere with your time with the baby. If there is one particular feeding during which you will also read to him, make that clear and consistent, but generally, I would say, “I hear you wanting my attention, but I need to focus on the baby right now. I’m looking forward to time with you while your brother naps” (or whenever). Maybe adding, “I know it’s hard to wait”.

      He will be persistent, so you must also be persistent, calm, patient.

      But if you can be clear, he will be able to let go (although he may have a meltdown…but that is the way he will express and move through some of these hard feelings). He may find a particular activity that calms him while you are attending to the baby. My eldest had a doll house she always went to, but first she had to let go of her struggle around trying to control and interfere with my time with the baby…and there were meltdowns. I was proud of her for solving this problem independently! And also proud of myself for allowing her to express her intense feelings while I held this limit. (And she was 4 also.)

  11. I have only one son, but I have actually found this post useful in dealing with a bit of jealousy from my 2 year old when having one on one playdates with other toddlers at home… I have noticed him being more clingy to me recently when another child is present, specifically at home, and conflicting desires with his toys etc. Showing empathy and understanding toward his negative feelings has helped him get through it. Thanks for another wonderful post, Janet!

    1. Thanks, Helene! It is very common for children your boy’s age to feel territorial when other children visit their home. In fact, most children pass through this stage. One solution might be to ask your son before his friend arrives, “Which of these toys shall we put out for you and so-in-so to play with?” Then allow him to put away toys that he’s not comfortable sharing. This will help to give him the autonomy he needs to relax and enjoy his friend’s visit a bit more.

  12. avatar Elanne Kresseer says:

    Great post Janet. Many years ago I did a ton of therapy about the arrival of my younger brother when I realized that I always flew into jealous rages with my partner at the time of year when my brother was born. There was so much pain for me around it. When I asked my mom about my brother’s arrival and whether they had prepared me for it and how it had gone after he was born she was honest and told me that they hadn’t prepared me at all and that it was really difficult for me and that they hadn’t handled my emotions around it too well. Later I saw a home video from that time and it was so clear that I was deeply hungry for attention and that my adorable baby brother had completely, as my grandma said, stole my thunder.

    I feel so touched when I see families handle this gracefully and so saddened when it’s absent. Thanks for supporting this big time in a child’s life.

    1. Thank you for generously sharing your story, Elanne.

  13. I have three children of my own (13/3/11mths) and three step sons (17/15/13) who come up on weekends. When my last child was born my partner went back to work two days later and was working 14hr days. I admit that I was overwhelmed and it didn’t matter how many times I asked for help – it didn’t come. I got a new baby and my toddler got a monster mom for six months. I yelled at her and was rough with her and I hate myself for hurting her like that. Even now I often get enraged by her actions and have to physically remove myself before I lash out at her (verbally). I am trying to get help by seeing a therapist and trying to tell people that I do this but no one seems to understand that I need help to stop and I need ways to deal with MY behavior and help to fix my broken relationship with my three year old and help her heal from this horrible time as well. Any advice is welcome. Thanks for writing this article and sharing your insights.

    1. Just wanted to offer encouragement and support even if I don’t know what to advise specifically. I think the fact that you realize this about yourself is already a huge step in the right direction. I have similar problems with my attitude/actions, and I find people to be dismissive of my worries. Every day I try to be a better mother, some days I still fail, but I must keep trying.

  14. Such great points–applicable in other situations, too. and throughout: Empathize, empathize, empathize.

  15. I think you have a lot of good info here but I highly doubt they labeled their daughter a “problem child” in your first story. You’re the one who labeled her that lol. You’re article says doubt judge and that’s exactly what you did. Her patents were in an airport and while they may have snapped at her for either being mean to the new sibling or maybe short tempered from the trip, you have no idea if that’s how she is treated on a regular basis. I only bring this up because I don’t think it’s very good judgement to assume anything about another parent.

    1. Marlo, I used “problem child” to describe the message I believe children receive when they are scolded and shamed. When a new baby arrives, most children push limits with their parents and when parents respond with anger, scoldings and/or punishments, these children certainly hear — loud and clear — that they are the “not nice” one in the family. When parents understand the importance of setting limits calmly and empathetically, they don’t suddenly revert to shaming and glaring at their child just because they’ve had a long day. They might momentarily lose their tempers, but that wasn’t what I observed with this family at the airport. They were angry and offended by their 3-year-old daughter’s behavior…and they were holding onto that…

      As I’ve said, I think this way of responding is a mistake, because it creates distance and even more hurt and pain for the child, which then leads to more out-of-control behavior, limit-pushing and acting out. When parents point fingers at their child, their child takes on the role she’s being assigned, which in this case is the “mean sister” role. (While the “good sister” sits safely in her mother’s arms.) This dynamic certainly isn’t irreversable if parents work to change it, but it’s not a “whoops” or a one-time thing.

      I shared this experience because it so clearly exemplified the points I tried to make in this post.

      The advice I share on my blog is based on my training, experiences as a mother and coach, and observations of parents and toddlers in the classroom. These are my opinions which, I suppose, could also be considered judgments. If I didn’t have opinions to share, my blog would be a bit pointless.

    2. ” She seemed to be fumbling for something in her polka dot backpack while her father glared at her and seethed, “Just be nice. Be nice to your sister!”

      Several feet away stood her mother, who also glared as she held baby sister (about 12 months old) in her arms. The girl kept her composure but avoided her parents’ gaze.
      She seemed alone and vulnerable — a “problem child” estranged from her family.”

      “Problem child” was used to describe how the girl felt, as she is publicly berated by her father and frowned upon by her mother. She ‘kept her composure but avoided her parents’ gaze’ which implies that connection with her parents probably felt broken- she on one side, mom, dad and perfect baby on the other.

      “Problem child” is in quotations because that’s what we label the errant child…and the fact is the majority of adults will excuse the parents behavior (you provide them here!) that they’re tired, they probably don’t always treat her like that etc.

      I am not sure what is it about this article that is striking a chord (albeit a negative one) with readers?

      1. avatar Katharine says:

        Lets not pretend this isn’t a perfect example of the standard, mainstream-parenting response. Go ahead and go count the number of “be nice!’s” you hear barked from mother to child in public.

  16. Wow, this post is perfect timing, my eldest just turned 3 is really struggling with life with a new baby, now 3 months. Although his attentions often start out gentle and caring, he shows him his toys, talks to him, sings to him etc, they can quickly turn violent, hitting, pulling, scratching, throwing, he as even flipped him onto his tummy once. I do struggle to keep my cool when his actions are so intentionally violent, and find it hard to know whether to comfort the screaming baby or attend to the frustrated preschooler! I do really sympathise with him as it was a rough pregnancy aswell so he has really missed out on mummy time. I set aside time everyday when it is just me and him, I thank and encourage him when his attentions are gentle and loving towards his brother, we even brought his bedtime forward to make sure he is getting plenty of sleep. But it has been getting worse, lately making it hard to keep a good sleep routine with baby, meaning he needs even more attention, which makes K even more frustrated..

  17. I don’t know how I missed this one until now, but so glad I found it. I am reading “Siblings Without Rivalry” and finding it so enlightening when looking back my own childhood struggles with siblings arriving when I turned 3. My son will be a little over 2.5 when our second baby arrives. So interesting to point out the use of “new” and how it may be perceived by a child. I’ll work “second” into our vocabulary.

  18. Great strategies! Referring to the new baby as “our baby” helps to affirm this is a family affair and you are all in this together. When getting ready for a feeding, proactively tell your older child you are getting ready to feed the baby. “I will have some water while I feed the baby, would you like a snack?” Then make time to get the snack for your older child. You can also snuggle together with some books while you feed the baby.
    There are also some great books to read with your older child before the baby arrives. One of my favorites is “Love Song for a Baby” by Marion Dane Bauer and Dan Andreasen. It can facilitate conversations about how much your older child was anticipated as well as how you are anticipating the next baby.
    Your older child may revert to younger behavior. Give them permission and recognize that “It looks like you are remembering what it was like when you were the baby. Would you like to snuggle for a bit?”
    Infant Massage is also a great way to develop connectedness with your newest baby, but also to maintain it with your older child.

  19. There is so much great advice to strive for in this post. I greatly appreciate the body of the post. I, too, though, find the introduction inappropriate and unprofessional, and inconsistent with the spirit of empathy in the main body of the post. Some options of what would be professional and consistent in a post intended to teach empathy: a hypothetical example, an example of yourself doing the type of parental behavior you seek to help us avoid, an example of a client who struggled with the type of parental behavior and who consented to being written about in the post, or the example from the airport written with some clear expression of empathy for the parents included in the original post. “Hopefully …” It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been in this business and how much experience you have — you sound like jerk saying that, when you *do not know* that family’s personal struggles — when all you really really know about families is what you know from a tiny sliver of the billions of *other* families in this world that you don’t know anything about. Four readers have given you this feedback now. It doesn’t mean it’s not true that the introduction can be read as professional and not judgemental — as clearly some readers agree. But it can be read as judgemental, too. The four of us thus far who find it judgemental, due to the lack of any stated empathy for the parents, are not dumb or projecting. Considering our feedback more thoughtfully for the future without making it about us and almost implying our lack of reading comprehension or our projecting our own issues will strengthen your writing. A statement of empathy for those parents in the intro itself would strengthen this piece.

    1. avatar Finisterre says:

      Wow. I’ve just been thinking how pleasant and friendly the comments on this blog are, and then I read yours.

      I really don’t think that telling the author she sounds like a jerk either adds anything to the discussion or leaves you any space on the moral high ground to criticise her behaviour.

    2. It might help to read previous comments and replies.

  20. Regarding #3:

    My son was born in November. My older child is six and adapted to her new role as big sister beautifully. I was even jealous because she seemed to connect with this little baby in a way that I didn’t feel I did and I hadn’t expected she could. She was thrilled to be a big sister. Finally!

    In January, she started complaining about sore throats. Usually they’d pass, and we chalked them up to allergies or just a flukey feeling.

    One day, driving home from school, she started complaining about her throat again. We started talking about her throat, trying to get the root of this problem. She said to me, “Sometimes I feel like crying, but I don’t know why and I don’t want to.” My amazing child had been fighting this lump in her throat, overwhelmed with unarticulated feelings of loss and change.

    Well I knew that feeling well! We’d tried for years to have this new baby. I was flooded with feelings of gratitude and joy that our efforts (IVF and surrogacy) had paid off, but I mourned for our old life of “just the three of us.” I shared my own feelings with her, and continue to still. We redoubled our efforts to reassure her of our love and her importance in our family. It was a powerful and educational experience for me.

    1. Wow, Pam, I can’t thank you enough for sharing your story. It gave me goosebumps! Such a lucky daughter to have an open, insightful parent like you!

  21. Hi Janet

    I am due to give birth to my second daughter in 6 weeks and already have a 2.5 year old daughter. This all makes complete sense and I’ve started implementing some of your advice now. For instance I don’t talk about her becoming a big sister. We have talked about how the baby will breastfeed and may cry a bit especially in the beginning. I’m just wondering how else I can prepare her for the baby’s arrival and ease the transition.

    Thanks in advance, Kate

  22. I’ve never commented so I will take this chance to say thank you for many great posts, including most of this one. I do question allowing an older child to take a toy away, ” taking candy from a baby”, so to speak. Doesn’t it send the message to both children that he who is bigger and stronger can take advantage of others? At what age would you suggest this to stop? Thanks in advance for clarifying this for me.

    I also agree with the others who have already commented on the judgment offered to the family at the airport. Isn’t it just as likely that the parents, in a stressful situation, were low on resources and were relying upon old habits or old recordings that they learned in their own childhoods? We have no idea where they were in their personal/parenting journeys, and doubting that this was a rare occasion probably strikes a chord with those of us that are in the midst of striving. We look to a nurturing community to support us through our mistakes, just as we are learning to do with our children. I believe that such judgment is contrary to what you are trying to accomplish, and it would be sad for you to lose credibility, as you contribute a great deal of value to many families.

  23. Thank you for sharing your insights in this article. I have a question on point 5 (Don’t Judge) and how to address a family member (MIL) who labels our 18 months old daughter’s behaviors that she doesn’t care for as “naughty.” I don’t want this word to be used in describing our daughter but I am struggling to come up with a respectful way to address this with my MIL.

    1. Hmmm… Personally, I would probably let it go. Is your MIL a daily presence?

  24. My wife and I are due to have our second girl in May. I’m having trouble with your advice that older siblings, “…need someone who understands their pain and can assure them that their mixed feelings (especially the negative ones) are perfectly valid…”

    I really don’t want to validate negative feelings. Your younger sister is a gift. It’s not okay to think of yourself first and her second. When she gets attention you should think of her gain not your loss. It’s okay to struggle with transition when life changes, but competitiveness and rivalry don’t have to be accepted as the norm.

    My brother and I grew up together with very little competitiveness (outside of sports) and I want my daughters to live this way. I think people with unhealthy competitive attitudes start with the assumption that this is impossible, and this causes the competitiveness in their children.

    Rather than teach kids that their negative feelings are valid, I prefer to give them the tools to prevent them.

    1. avatar Michelle G. says:

      Preventing negative feelings isn’t possible. We can validate those feelings while encouraging looking at the more positive side of things, but expecting a child not to have negative feelings will only cause frustration for everyone involved. It also shames the child.

  25. I’m going to be visiting my friend who recently welcomed child #2. Any suggestions as a friend to the family? (besides passing on this advice should they be open to it)

  26. Janet, I loved this article as I have a little boy and am expecting our second in July. I was wondering if you had any helpful, positive comments that I can say to my son, for example, when we are at the hospital or bring her home. What can I say to him that is positive and constructive instead “ooh you’re a big brother now, aren’t you excited??” Does that make sense? You’re article helps me understand better the things I should avoid, though, so thank you 🙂 He’s very cute with the belly bump and the baby inside but is starting to say “No sister” or “no baby B”.

  27. Hi Janet, I came across your blog a while ago when looking for help with my almost 3 year old boy and love the philosophy. We have an 8 month old boy also and since his arrival our lovely older boy has become very jealous emotional and aggressive toward his younger brother. I have tried many of your suggestions here but the message doesnt seem to be getting through. I cannot leave youngest on the mat at all without fear of him being sat on, pushed, tackled or muffled with a pillow and it is quite challenging. He says he would like to make baby cry or that its “funny”. Does there need to be a consequence here for attacking the baby? Or some way to deliver a firm message? I am finding it hard to keep my emotions intact in these situations which occur almost daily.

  28. Janet- we followed this advice when we had our 2nd baby. The transition from 1 to 2 was bumpy, and filled with insecurity on my part. But now that the kids are older (2.5 and 5), they have what I’d describe as the perfect friendship. And I *know* it’s because we read, reflected, and adjusted our parenting to follow these guidelines. The BEST part is that our older child basically teaches our younger about proper behavior- negotiation, making trades, physical boundaries, taking turns, and communicating feelings. It took awhile to get to this point, but it’s been smooth sailing for about 6 months and all the work & involvement has paid off. I just want to encourage others to keep learning, changing, and growing alongside your kids. Make adjustments. Acknowledge feelings, and apologize when you make mistakes. And when you mess up, don’t carry the guilt into the next day. Every day is new. Peace.

  29. To me this comes off as being for parents who have a cold that is 3 or older, what should I do to help my son with this transition? He is not quite 2 yet and we have a 7 week old.
    I do my best to explain that I understand how he is feeling and I try to show him how to handle his sister nicely and most of the time he is fine but he has recently started to hit her when she cries on the car or when we are out. He had also started to be more violent toward his grandparents and my husband and I as well.
    This all makes sense I just don’t know how to apply it to my 20 month old.

    1. Which part of this does not seem to apply, Jessica? Remember that he is expressing his feelings when he lashes out at you or the baby… So, he needs to do stop him from doing those things, while acknowledging, “You feel angry at us… I see how angry you are. It’s okay to feel angry, but I won’t let you hit me. That isn’t safe. I’m going to hold your hands and stop you.” If you can be consistent about this… stopping him calmly and confidently…and then letting go and moving on…he will feel safe to express these feelings…and they will eventually pass.

  30. avatar Sandee Labinas says:

    Oh Janet I need you on my shoulder.
    I read your blogs often, but often struggle with my self checks…
    Thank you for your site.

    1. Okay, I’ll be there! You’re so welcome, Sandee

  31. One of the useful comments I heard when my daughter was in the maelstrom of “dethronement” was to imagine everything I said to her about her new sister as if it were something my husband said to me after he’d brought a new girlfriend home to live in our house:

    Having her living here doesn’t change how much I love you.

    She’s not very fun to have around now, but you two will have so much fun playing together after she’s been here a while.

    You’re older, you were here first so you can teach how to do things.

    Could you sit next to me, it’s hard to take care of her with you sitting on my lap.

  32. Hi Janet, i have a 3 year old and a 9 month old, and I’m struggling with violent behaviour. My 3 year old is constantly hitting and pushing her sister, standing on her fingers when she is crawling around, knocking her over when she pulls herself up onto things, and I don’t know how to stop it happening. I have read your book, and I feel like there is no mention of how to deal with this kind of behavior. I can’t always catch her before she does it, even when I’m in the same room, so I’m not sure how to deal with it after the fact. I have told her many times to stop it, I have tried talking about her feelings, but those methods don’t seem to work on my very spirited daughter. What am i missing? I am responsible for protecting the little one from harm, and feel like i am failing. Any advice?

    1. Yes. This is my problem as well. RIE parenting always looks like such a great idea but (a) it’s very much pitched at typically developing children (whereas my developmentally delayed son with sensory processing difficulties often requires much more hands-on teaching/guidance than RIE recommends), and (b) it seems to assume that “worst-case scenarios” are not on the table. My son is outright violent to his little sister — but not consistently, so we don’t strictly separate them, as we DO want them to learn to get along! — and things escalate from “normal” to “throwing a heavy box at the baby’s head” in a matter of seconds, far less time than it takes to say “I see you are angry, but I can’t let you….”

      1. Sounds like your son might need more help expressing the feelings he is acting out through his behavior. I don’t agree RIE is only for typically developing children. Before Magda Gerber founded RIE, she worked for several years as a child therapist with children with autism other special needs. Here’s a post you might find helpful, particularly the first and last stories.

  33. Hi Janet
    Yes echoing what several other moms have written above, we are in the midst of violence all day every day in my house with the 2.5yo constantly swatting at the 4 month old. I often feel I can’t nurse the baby without aggression (towards me and baby) from the toddler, even with (guilt) toddler’s favourite tv programs on. As baby is struggling to concentrate on nursing anyway (obsessed with watching toddler) I am finding it very difficult to react calmly when baby is finally concentrating and latched on and toddler comes up and swipes him on the head causing tears. Please, advice! Thank you!!!!

  34. avatar Amanda Sharp-Davis says:

    Janet, what do you say instead of “bad, not nice or mean”? I just told my 2 1/2 yr old that he was being mean tonight when he kept sticking things in my face. I then told him that he’s a good boy and not a bad boy. He said “I’m a bad boy” with a giggle. It was all in gest but now I’m curious as to what I should have done/said instead. I try really hard to teach him all the “good” ways to act & communicate but am now wondering I’d I should be learning a new method. Can you help?

    1. “You want to put that in my face. I won’t let you.” There’s no need to use judgmental terminology with your tiny little guy, who is exhibiting typical, age-appropriate, impulsive behavior.

  35. Wow! Words cannot describe how much I needed to read this today. I have a 3 yr old and 7 mo old. For the last 10 weeks of my pregnancy, I was on both hospital and home bed rest. My 3 yr old’s routine was shattered; she was shuttled between both grandparents and my husband while I was in the hospital. This resulted in her either being distant with me or acting out. And now that the baby is 7 months, it’s worse. After reading this post, I realize that I’ve been going about everything the wrong way. Is it too late to repair our relationship? I often feel this way.

  36. Thank you for this article. We have a 3 year old son who seemed to have accepted the new baby with minimal fuss. The new baby is now 8 months old and my son has started saying that he wants me to take the baby back to the hospital, having more tantrums, crying in my arms and saying the baby doesn’t love him. He has also started stuttering (which he has never done before), having toileting accidents (doesn’t even seem to notice he is wet), and is very clingy and wants lots of help with things (eg. “mummy play with me” all the time). He doesn’t want to “miss out” insisting on sitting in the pram too, having milk too, etc. I have been trying to talk to my son about his emotions, tell him I love him all the time and spend time playing or doing things just with him when I can. Is this just a phase? Is there anything else I should be doing?

  37. Thank you for this article. I have a 6 month old and 2 1/2 year old. From reading your articles this week with a pretty tricky older boy, I’ve decided I need to be in his corner. I am still struggling when he randomly and impulsively stamps on her head or today tried to bite her foot. Most other times he’s pretty good. He’s always been an extremely busy boy with lots of adrenaline and love to give as well.

  38. So grateful for this post! I am trying to use the “I won’t let you” language but I feel like all day long I am redirecting my son (28mos) way from his baby sister (12wks). It makes me feel like that is the entirety of our relationship. Any advice on shifting my perspective on this?

  39. Janet, thank you for this post. It hit me hard bc I feel that we are that family in the beginning of your article… Everyday I see the situation getting worse and every day I keep asking myself how do we get out of this cycle? So, my question for you is can this cycle be stopped? Has the damage already been done and how do I repair my relationship with my daughter and help her behavior improve? Obviously, you can’t answer all my questions in a reply but if you know of any resources you could point me to I’d be much appreciative!

  40. avatar caro keeble says:

    My granddaughter has just had a baby brother. She is gentle and loving to him but really playing up with her parents- refusing to get dressed unless dad does it and then refusing each time, same with going to bed, Any strategies? Thanks.

  41. Thank you for the article. What really helped in our situation was my husband at home for the first three weeks. We made sure there were no big changes in the months before and after the arrival of the baby. And that she ate and slept on time.

  42. Thank u so much.. i learn a lots frm ur articles..

  43. Hi, there! I have a 19 month old and am due with our second baby in July. Do you recommend any books to help our little guy become more aware of what is going on?


  44. Thanks for the post, it’s inspiring.
    I have a question. You’ve mentioned “Most babies don’t mind the toys being removed from them” what if they do?

    i have three children 4 years old boy and 1 year old twins. one of the twins is not happy with removing anything from her hands. And the big brother like to remove. What would you say?

    Best regards

  45. Hi Janet

    I have a 2 1/2-year-old son who will be three in November and I have a four-month-old baby. My son attends preschool since January 2015. He had a hard time adjusting to school in the beginning but eventually he would participate in the projects and started warming up to the teachers and the other children at the school.

    The teacher recently told me that his whole temperament has changed. He has not participated in any artwork and he cries and kicks toys when they ask him to clean up. He also refuses to get his lunch box out of his cubby. The teacher recently told me that his whole temperament has changed. He has not participated in any artwork and he cries and kicks toys when they ask him to clean up. He also refuses to get his lunch box out of his cubby. The teacher said that she thinks it might be what she calls baby blues and she wants to assess him to make sure that there is no other issue going on

    I noticed his behavior has changed at home as well. He seems a little bit more anxious at times and not willing to clean up after himself. Also, we took him for haircuts in the past and yesterday he refused to sit down to get a haircut and he seemed very scared and not wanting to do so. I would not force him to do anything so I stayed as patient as I could and waited for him to warm up to the situation before anything was done.

    My question to you is is this normal behavior because a new baby has been introduced into the family? Or do you think that something else might be going on? I know you don’t have the full picture just from the examples I have given you I wanted to see if you can give me your opinion on what is going on right now.

    Thank you!

  46. Great article. My question is how do you convey that to a 20 month old? A small age gap means the 20 month old no longer feels like the special baby.

  47. This article finds me in a moment where I really need it even if the issue is not exactly with a sibling… but with classmates! I’ve started taking my son (2.5 yrs) with me at the preschool where I work and he’s having such a hard time ‘sharing’ me with the other kids whom he tries to hit all the time. Even if the situation is completely different, I think I can apply your advice in my case, too. Will see how things evolve… tahnks for your always interesting points of view!

  48. avatar Chontelle says:

    What a perfectly timed article with our bubs expected in 3 months. Miss 3 has already started acting up and this has given us some great tools to help her find her place in the new dynamic and maintain our very special relationship. Thank you xxx

  49. avatar Stephanie says:

    Would I still use all this language even though my 15 mth old is still non verbal and also be more expressive with my body language and facial expressions? Is there anything else I should do to make him feel like it’s ok to express himself in a non verbal manner?

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