When I told our 4-year-old daughter that I was having a baby, she could not have been happier. Now that her baby brother is here, she is having a very hard time. She is defiant, moody and tells me she wishes I would send the baby back to the hospital. Help!
It is easy for little ones to love the idea of a little brother or sister, and an entirely different matter when that real baby is co-opting mommy's affection and attention.
Your daughter is telling you in actions what she cannot say in words: "I'm jealous of the baby." "I don't like watching you snuggle with him." "I want you to pay attention to ME!"
As wonderful as it is to have a new addition to your family -- one that will eventually enrich your daughter's life enormously -- at the moment, she has suffered a real loss, and needs help grieving. What has she lost? Your undivided attention, the special status of being your youngest, and the familiar routines of day to day life.
The more you can help your little girl express her feelings of sadness and jealousy, the sooner she will be able to move through this loss and come to terms with reality as it is now -- with a new brother in the family.
Help her find her tears when she gets upset or frustrated -- even if it seems to be over something trivial, like not getting another cookie. The more she can offload the big feelings she's carrying inside by crying in your loving presence and allowing herself to be comforted, the less she will need to misbehave. "You really wanted that cookie. It doesn't seem fair that mommy isn't letting you have it. It's hard when you want something that you can't have."
Now of course I don't want you making a fuss over her every time she's unhappy, but the more you can help her tap into her sadness, the sooner she will come to understand that you are still there for her, that you understand her, and that with your help she will find her way through this big change in your family's life.
If your daughter seems indifferent to her brother, don't force her to be loving with him. Give her room to develop her own affection for him; it will grow naturally if you help her feel all of her feelings -- the good, the bad and the ugly.
When and if she is gentle or kind to the baby, don't make a big deal about it. "I saw how sweetly you held your little brother's hand. I think he liked that."
If she misbehaves, or talks about wanting to send him back to the hospital, look for the message underneath her complaint, rather than addressing the words themselves. "I get the feeling you're wishing you had mommy all to yourself right now. It's hard to share mommy with the baby." By acknowledging the emotions fueling her behavior, you will help her feel validated, removing the need to act out to get your attention.
Be patient. As long as you help your daughter catch up to the new look of your family and bid adieu to the way things were, she should move through this very common phase.
Susan Stiffelman is the author of Parenting Without Power Struggles: Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids While Staying Cool, Calm and Connected. She is a family therapist, parent coach, and internationally recognized speaker on all subjects related to children, teens and parenting.
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