Sharing is a really tough concept for most children. They grow up being the centre of attention and then another sibling arrives. They are forced to share attention and their toys. Then jealousy rears its ugly head. I recently visited a family on the Northern Beaches and the 3 year old was pinching his younger brother. It had really escalated past the jealousy point.
So how should you introduce the concept of sharing?
Your toddler has been used to being ‘numero uno’ for quite some time so it’s only natural that they feel upset and jealous. Suddenly the attention has shifted from them to their new brother or sister. They feel confused, jealous, resentful and probably very angry. If they could send the baby back to the shop I’m sure that most children would. Even if you’ve prepared them for a new sibling it doesn’t guarantee success in the adjustment.
Problems really come to head once the baby is crawling and taking the toddlers toys for his own. Now we’re into a turf war and the house is suddenly a war zone!
So what do you do now the new baby has arrived and your oldest child suddenly isn’t as thrilled as you are?
- Until things are resolved NEVER leave the toddler alone with the baby. They may not mean to hurt them and all it may take is a cry or reaction from the baby and next thing your toddler may have hit them or bitten their cheek.
- Have some special one on one time each day - Read my previous blog: The Child’s Game
- Reward and praise good behaviour, especially in relation to the new baby and encourage help such as asking the toddler to get mummy a nappy, praise them for playing with the baby, “Mummy likes it when you play with James and you make him laugh’ or ‘Thank you Jayden for getting mummy James' nappy. You are such a helpful boy’.
- Routines are really important. Make sure that you stick to bedtimes and story time continues. His day should be as routine and important as the new baby’s. Remember that routines create security.
- Show them how to share. Taking turns and sharing prized possessions can be tough, even for grown-ups — and like just about all social skills, these key ones must be learned. So, first off, get ready to teach through your generous example. Modelling the big-hearted behavior you’d like to (one day) see in your children is a really smart move. For example offer both of them a piece of fruit you’re eating or part of lunch on your plate. Let them catch you and your partner sharing. Some examples, “There’s only one pizza slice left, let's split it", inviting someone with just two items to go ahead of you on the supermarket line or giving up your seat for an elderly woman on the bus. Play games that encourage turn-taking, like rolling a ball.
- Keep your expectations real. It’s not realistic to expect your older child to share everything with his little brother, and it’s not really fair either. Rights are a two-way street, and if you’re always asking your eldest to give in favor of his siblings because “He’s just a baby,” resentment’s sure to brew.
- Letting your older child know that certain belongings are his and his alone will help him feel less possessive — and, if you’re lucky, more inclined to share the rest of his stuff. Make sure you follow through with protecting those rights too (instead of always giving the baby his way). A good time for your older son to play with his exclusive treasures — and to play in a pest-free space: baby’s sleep time. Try and utilise the Child’s Game at that time.
- Once the baby has become aware of turn taking - usually around the 2-3 year old mark then try and time turn taking to make sure it is fair.Use the timer to set limits on how long each sibling can play with a certain toy before turning it over to the other (of course, each should receive the same time limit). It may take a few tries before your little ones learn to respect the buzzer — but once they start to see that what goes around (their sibling’s turn) comes around (their turn), you’ll face fewer fights over communal property.
- Be an equal-opportunity praiser. Your little one is making developmental leaps and bounds, but as you celebrate those accomplishments (as you should), make sure you don’t take your older child’s skill sets for granted. If you find yourself praising your baby’s newfound ability to grasp his spoon, be sure to remark on your preschooler’s skill when it comes to pouring the milk.
- Give refereeing a rest. If you’re always quick to step into a sibling conflict, they’ll never learn how to resolve one on their own (and remember, sibling play is great social practice). With a little guidance, even young siblings can work together to find ways to share. When you spy a tug of war over that plastic hammer, wait a minute to see if they can figure out a compromise. That’s clearly not happening? Step in calmly and ask your older child how he thinks he might stop the struggle. He just might pick up on your impartial, problem-solving approach and come up with a suggestion.
- Allow them to express their feelings. Little siblings can be irritating, and so can sharing everything you used to have all to yourself. Let your older child know that it’s okay to vent the angry feelings everyone feels sometimes. Just keep your perspective (and cool) as he does (he’s not up to self-editing yet). When he says, “I hate Dominic — I wish he would go away forever!” he’s just expressing his very normal angry feelings about a sibling who knocked over the block tower he just spent all morning working on. Try and avoid the natural reflex response of “What a terrible thing to say — you don’t mean that” (because of course he doesn’t mean it, not literally). Instead, help him feel understood. Empathise: “You’re really angry at Dominic because he knocked down your tower. You worked really hard on that.” Don’t try to explain away the baby’s behavior (“he doesn’t know any better”) because that won’t help him feel heard — and it won’t bring back his tower either. The key is for him to know that his emotions are valid and justified, so he can let the rest of his anger go.
- Don’t allow things to get physical. How you react to undesirable behaviour is really important - always follow through with consequences such as time out. Ignore minor misdemeanors. No matter what has caused the older sibling to lash out, be clear that showing anger by hurting another person is unacceptable. Let your child know in no uncertain terms that if he hurts his brother he’ll have time out. Time out also allows you time to calm down and think. Be evenhanded when it comes to discipline. If your baby is the aggressor — he’s pulling his brother’s hair or biting him — remove him from the scene and take him to the cot to chill. Showing your firstborn that you don’t play favorites will help him respect the rules (and you).