Sibling Rivalry

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The thought of bringing a second (or third!) baby home creates a bit of a sense of anxiety for Mums and Dads.  For the young prince(s) or princess (es) of the house the diversion of attention away from them is mostly pretty unwelcome.  Depending on the ages of siblings when a new baby arrives, it is often the siblings causing more disruption than the new arrival!  However the news is not all bad with a breakdown of the research showing that whilst having babies close together is physically demanding on the parents, the smaller age gap tends to mean less rivalry.  The first sibling often does not remember a time without a baby around and tends to adjust to change more easily.   The next step is that then up to a certain point a larger gap is more troublesome – before becoming easy again with much older, and generally very excited, sibling/s in the house.

So what is the hardest gap?  The consensus appears to be that the age gap of between 3 and 4 1/2 years can cause the most problems. The first reason is that those who have experienced a three year old recognising that the terrible twos are NOTHING on the theatrical threes.  Three year olds have generally moved past the point of just saying no, and having a small tantrum, to having a certain sense of manipulation that only comes from experience.  They know how and where to create the most problematic situation – and when a new baby arrives, this can hit a new notch of creativity.

The experienced mums in those reading this will have a story of master or miss 3 dismantling of pantry, fridge or bathroom cupboards whilst mum is changing a new baby’s nappy.  Or drawing all over the walls whilst mum is settling baby to bed.  But some of the best ones are where the theatrical three year old escapes OUT of the house whilst mum is feeding a bubba.  Many of the best stories are mother looking out a window to see – what – master three sitting on the bus stop….or miss three walking to the corner shop…..maybe even with the dog in tow.

Whilst these problems may arise, planning for the new arrival can help to settle things down quite a lot.  A few suggestions include:

  • having a special box of toys for times where you are feeding baby – the smarter or older child may need more such as special activities or books that can be done during feeding (games including educational games on some form of technology may help)
  • making special times of the day for your and toddler or toddlers – this could be there bed times or an early morning cuddle when your partner is around to help
  • spending time outdoors with baby in a sling and the old boss of the house playing in the park or walking in the pram can start to ease the pain
  • having a bath time with all kids and mum in the bath can also be a great one after a week or two
  • make the house a little more toddler proof in the weeks leading up to the birth – things that you normally would consider a low risk may become a higher risk activity so it is worth making sure you have anything dangerous out of reach
  • if grandparents are available when you come home, having them deal with baby between feeds whilst you focus on a toddler can help in the initial times – ditto if both partners can be focused on the other child or children.

The early phase is usually the most difficult and once a short amount of time passes the old household boss is likely to be a great helper assisting with nappies and entertaining the bub whilst you go about the usual chores.

Liz Wilkes has been a midwife for 24 years and is the Managing Director of My Midwives.  My Midwives provides midwifery continuity of care to women in Brisbane, Melbourne and Toowoomba.  Liz is presenting a special short form antenatal class series at the Baby To Toddler Show. 

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