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Older Child’s Aggression toward New Baby


Question:


To the wonderful volunteers who answer questions:
 
I have a two year old daughter and a 3-week-old son. For the first two weeks, my daughter was well behaved, loving the baby being here. The past week has been a nightmare.  My usually placid and sweet little girl has turned in to an aggressive little person. Often acting out, screaming to get her own way, or even throwing things.
 
While nursing this evening, she lunged herself off the other end of the couch, and landed on her brother. When I said to stop, that she had to be gentle with her brother, she just laughed and tried doing it again.
 
 At times, she will sit next to us, cuddling with me, and then out of no where kick him in the head.  I have tried talking to her about it, calmly explaining that it is not nice to kick, and I have tried making her sit in a different chair until I am done.  When this didn't work I placed her in her crib for 3 minutes, and when she came out she wasn't aggressive.....that lasted all of 10 minutes when she then decided kicking me was a fun idea.  I am at a loss.  I don't know if she is mad at me for bringing home a new baby or if she is angry that I am not paying attention to her at the time.
 
Any help you could give would be greatly appreciated.
 
Donna

Answer:


Dear Donna,

My name is Eryn Rodger and I am part of the team who answers questions for this website.  I am a parent educator, run a childcare program, and am the mother of three children ages 8, 6 and 19 months. 

What you are going through with your daughter, while challenging, is completely normal.  For the first couple of weeks it sounds like you had a bit of a “honeymoon” period, where everything was new and exciting, and then the reality of having a new baby set in and things changed. 

It’s wonderful that you are trying to get into your daughter’s world, attempting to figure out what the beliefs are behind her behavior.  I think you’re right on: she’s most likely feeling angry that she’s not getting the same kind of attention from you and perhaps hurt about having to share you with her new brother. There are several things you can do to encourage your daughter to get her needs met in ways that are fun and create an atmosphere of love and cooperation.

1.  Involve her in caring for her new brother.  Let her know how important she is!  Some of things young children love to do: taking off diapers, handing Mommy diaper wipes, snapping and buttoning clothes, singing songs, etc. Let her make some of the decisions:  “Should your brother use this blanket or this one? You decide.” Get creative! 

2. Notice her feelings. Acknowledge and validate any hurt feelings she conveys to you.  Give her language to begin to talk about them. Reflect back to her what you are seeing.  Does she look mad?  Does she sound hurt or sad?  She might want to draw a picture of how she is feeling or pound on some play dough. There are lots of wonderful books for children who are adapting to life with a new sibling.

3.  Schedule regular, consistent, special time with your daughter. Let her know that this is time just for her to be with you. If possible, have another adult care for the baby, but doing special time during baby’s naptime can also work.  Remind her that she will have your undivided attention during this time when she is having difficulty at other times of the day.

4.  Make her a special nursing “treasure box” that she can play with whenever you are feeding the baby.  Put some quiet activities inside, maybe even a special photo album with lots of pictures of her when she was a baby. 

5.  Whenever possible, put the two of them in the same boat.  When your daughter acts aggressively toward the baby, you might see unprovoked attacks, but she might perceive some wrongdoing on the part of her baby brother as well!  You might say something like, “You two are playing too rough!  I am going to separate you for a while.”  Then put both children in separate areas. It might sound silly, but you not taking sides will set the stage for healthy sibling relationships in the future. You could also approach the situation with compassion for both and curiosity about what happened from your daughter’s point of view.  She will be more willing to accept clear, firm limits around harmful behavior if she feels listened to.

For more great tools and ideas, check out Positive Discipline for Preschoolers and Positive Discipline for Birth to Three, and find out if there is a class offered in your area.  On a final note, do make sure you are taking good care of YOU, because we are all more willing and able to meet the challenges of parenting when we feel good!  

Hello Eryn
 
I wanted to thank you for your response.  It was very helpful and educational.  I have begun to implement some of your ideas, such as having her help me change his diaper, trying to understand her feelings by talking to her about them.  Although her words are not all there, when I ask the questions she seems to understand and answers me with yes or no.  It is a great relief to know that there are people who are knowledgeable in the types of problems you and the rest of the team answer regularly.  Thank you again for responding.  I will definitely get the books you suggested, and will pass on the web site address to family and friends with children. 
 
Sicerely,
Donna Poser
Toronto, Ontario
 
 
 
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