Ask Dr. Sharon
Clinical Psychologist, Family and Relationship Expert
Dear Dr. Sharon, We just had a new baby and we are so happy, but our 3 year old son is acting extremely jealous of the new baby. I want to make sure he doesn’t hurt our new daughter- either intentionally or unintentionally. What should we do?
Congratulations on the new baby. What you are experiencing in your family is quite normal. Before the new baby entered your family, your son was probably the center of attention. Now, he must share your time and attention with the new baby, who requires a lot of care. Your son is also very young, so he may not know or understand that “playing” with the new baby doesn’t mean throwing a ball. Children, especially young toddlers, need to learn appropriate ways to interact with younger siblings, especially newborns.
First and foremost, as you know, you must protect the baby by teaching your son to be safe and gentle around him. You should do this by talking to him, demonstrating, guiding and lovingly encouraging. Whenever your children are together, make sure you are close by. If you see your son getting a little too rough, pick up the baby and distract your son. This protects the baby while helping you avoid a constant saying of “no,” which may actually encourage aggressive behavior.
Teach your son about soft touching. Explain to him how a gentle touch can calm the baby and make her happy. When you notice your son doing something well, be sure to praise him for a job well done. Positive encouragement can go a long way.
Show, by example, how to handle the baby appropriately. Your son will be watching as you handle the baby and he will learn from your actions. You are your child’s most important teacher. You are demonstrating in everything you do, and your child will learn most from watching you.
Encourage your son to be open with his feelings and to communicate them to you. Never negate how he is feeling. Acknowledge his unspoken feelings, such as “Things have changed with your new sister here. It’s going to take us all some time to get used to this.” Listen to his feelings and acknowledge them.
Make your son feel loved. Say extra I love yous, increase the amount of hugs, and find special time to bond just with him.
Get your son involved by teaching him how to be helpful with the baby or how to entertain the baby. Let him sprinkle the powder. Praise and encourage his efforts. Don’t force him to help- let it happen naturally and when he wants to do so.
Avoid comparing your son and your daughter. Even the most innocent comparison (e.g. he was a good sleeper, she isn’t) can be interpreted by little ones as criticism.
Most of all, relax. This is a time of adjustment for everyone in the family. The new family dynamic will take getting used to, but over time, you’ll get to be an old pro at it. Best of luck to you and your family.
Sharon Fried Buchalter, Ph.D., is a distinguished clinical psychologist, forensic psychologist, family/marriage therapist, relationship expert and author. Dr. Sharon has developed revolutionary tools to help couples, parents, and families achieve happiness and success. Dr. Sharon has a doctorate in clinical psychology from Columbia University and has advanced training in child and adolescent psychology. She is the author of ‘Children Are People Too’ and ‘New Parents Are People Too;’ both books are winners of the prestigious iParenting media award.