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Ask Dr. Sears: Jealous 5-Year-Old

Q What are your thoughts about birth order and sibling rivalry? I am 6 1/2 months pregnant and I have a 5-year-old daughter. She is jealous and acts out negatively. I am worried that once the baby comes, it will only get worse. What can I do?

A: Firstborns naturally experience more sibling rivalry since initially they don't have to share, whereas subsequent children have to share from the get-go. Certainly this was the case with the first of our eight children. By the time number eight came along, the older children had gotten used to welcoming new siblings into their home. In my experience, the age between siblings is what influences rivalry more than the birth order. Children over the age of 3 usually welcome a new baby in the home, since they are more verbal and can express their feelings, and have other friendships at preschool. Also, older children tend to regard a new baby as a novelty. Yet learning to live with siblings can be like bootcamp for living in the adult world. In sibling relationships, children build upon this blueprint and learn how to negotiate, how to compromise, how to forgive, how to be forgiven, and how to love someone even when you don't like them. This is why building a healthy sibling relationship gives children the tools to succeed in life.

It is also normal for a firstborn child to show behavioral regressions during your pregnancy, because mommy is obviously different. You are tuning in to your changing body (and rightly so), and your older child is sensing that something very big, and possibly upsetting may be happening in the family. You can smooth out these regressive behaviors by involving her in your pregnancy and in the care of her new sibling once he or she arrives. Here's how: