“Dr. Linda, James my 3-year-old was almost potty trained when I brought my new baby girl
home. Now he won’t even go near the potty! I’m so frustrated. What can I do? Is this sibling
This is definitely your three-year-olds way of showing you that he’s jealous, has sibling rivalry and is not happy that you brought a new baby into ‘his’ home.
In last weeks blog, we covered how it’s not uncommon for toddlers to ‘regress’ and go back to doing things they have grown out of. In your situation what has happened is that your toddler sees the new baby getting a lot of attention when you change her diaper. So, in his mind, it’s logical to go back to ‘needing’ all his diapers changed instead of using the potty; that way he’ll get more of your attention.
As a conscious aware parent who recognizes this behavior as a sign of sibling rivalry, the best thing you can do is to calmly go back to changing your toddler’s diapers without getting upset. Over the next few weeks, as you and your toddler settle into the new dynamic, you can encourage your toddler to go back to using the potty again.
There are a few common ways that toddlers show they have sibling rivalry:
- They go back to behaviors that they did when they were younger (regression).
- They start to do things they know they shouldn’t (misbehave).
- They get aggressive toward the new baby.
- They start throwing a lot of temper tantrums.
All of these behaviors are designed to get your undivided attention. Unfortunately, they don’t care if it’s positive or negative attention as long as you’re completely focused on them. This is why your reaction to the behaviors is so important!
Your toddler’s point of view:
I know we talked about this last week but I think it’s very important to keep your toddler’s point of view in mind. It will make you more effective as you come up with your own unique ways of dealing with the different behaviors your toddler will come up with as a result of sibling rivalry.
- I used to be the complete focus of mom and dads attention and now I’m not.
- Mom and dad run toward the new baby when the baby cries but when I throw temper tantrum they ignore me, get mad or put me in time out. It’s not fair!
- I have to do something to get everybody’s attention again!
- What can I do?
- When is the best time to do it?
A few things you need to know about your toddlers and sibling rivalry:
- Your toddlers are a lot smarter and more creative than you realize.
- They have nothing better to do than think up ways to get your undivided attention.
- They’re not being ‘bad’ or ‘naughty’ when they do what they do. They’re very young and haven’t learned positive ways to deal with their jealousy which is a very natural reaction to being ‘dethroned’.
- By misbehaving your toddlers are just making sure you pay attention to them and not the new baby:
- They know what pushes your buttons, what gets you upset and they’ll do what gets the most reaction out of you.
- Toddlers are masters at figuring out the best times to misbehave. The times when you’re up to your elbows in poop, or while your newborn is crying (and when you’re on the phone) are favorite times because:
- You’re are not paying attention to them and they don’t like it.
- Becuase you’re busy, your toddlers figure you won’t take the time to discipline them for misbehaving!
In last weeks blog, I gave you ideas how to prevent your toddler with sibling rivalry from misbehaving.
This week’s blog is about two ‘positive’ ways you can handle the situation when your toddler has decided that misbehaving is the best way to get your attention.
- ‘Catch’ your toddler doing ‘good’ things. Postive attention.
- Discipline your toddler the way you normally would. Positive Discipline.
Why ‘catch’ your toddler doing ‘good things’?
Since what you pay attention to increases, it’s a great habit to start noticing when your toddler is behaving well and praise her for that. Give her hugs and kisses, high fives or extra snuggles.
Toddlers( even ‘naughty’ ones) do many more positive things than negative things, for example, they sit quietly, they play nicely, they listen when you read or talk to them, at least some of the time. The issue is that most of us forget to ‘notice’ them when they are behaving well and forget to tell them how much we appreciate it when they do.
When you get into the habit of ‘catching’ your toddler when he’s behaving well and giving him positive reinforcement for his good behavior you’ll’ magically’ see an increase in the behaviors that you like and a decrease in the behaviors you don’t.
How to discipline your toddler who has sibling rivalry:
It’s important to be consistent when you deal with toddlers and preschoolers. If you normally use time away/time out as a method of discipline continue to use it; continue to use whatever method you have been using. Don’t let any feelings of guilt you may have for bringing home a new baby stop you from disciplining your toddler for unacceptable behavior.
Proper discipline is not punishment, it’s the consequence of a behavior your toddler knows is not acceptable or that is dangerous. The true reason we discipline our children is not to hurt them or to ‘break their spirit’ but so teach them self-control!
Here are a few pointers I know will be helpful:
- Watch your toddler closely while you’re caring for the new baby so you can notice when she first starts to do something she shouldn’t.
- The minute you notice she’s about to do something she shouldn’t, get her attention, try to distract her; talk to her, sing to her or ask her to do something. My son loved it when I’d ask him to run really fast back and forth and then pretended he was so fast I couldn’t see him!
- If distraction doesn’t work and your toddler does something you usually discipline her for, gently put your newborn down in a safe place and calmly take your toddler to her time out/away place (or use whatever method you normally use to discipline her). You don’t want your toddler to think she can misbehave just because you’re busy taking care of the baby.
Important steps to take after disciplining your toddler with sibling rivalry:
- Give your toddler a snuggle and a kiss as you tell him you love him.
- Let your toddler know exactly why you put him in time out. It’s important that he knows that it was his actions that lead to time out and nothing to do with the new baby.
- Let your toddler know that you know he’s jealous of the baby and that you love him anyway.
Why Acknowledge that your toddler feels jealous?
Letting your toddler or preschooler know that you know they have ‘bad’ feelings toward the baby but you still love them makes them feel more secure and, with time will cut down on sibling jealousy.
As humans, even young children, we realize that jealousy is not an acceptable feeling. As babies and children, we want to please our parents so we can be sure that they’ll love us. When we feel negative emotions, especially toward a family member, we tend to feel less deserving of love so it’s very reassuring to hear from our moms (or dads) that they still love us even though we are feeling negatively toward the new baby.
It’s so important when we deal with our children that we do not make them ‘wrong’ for having negative feelings. What we want to teach them is that everybody has negative feelings from time to time and that there are acceptable ways to handle these feelings. We don’t want them to deny their negative feelings or ‘stuff’ them because unexpressed feelings stored in the body may appear later on as constipation, tummy aches, poor sleep or school challenges. Here are a few ideas to teach them how to express their ‘negative’ emotions in healthy, socially acceptable ways.
As always, I would love to hear your experiences with your toddlers and preschoolers. Please post your comments or questions below.
To your holistic health,