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The Overlooked Older Sib

For the first 22 months of her life, Tessa Beasley was the undisputed star of her family. But ever since her sister, Caitlin, now 2 months, came along, things have changed. "When we're out, everyone oohs and aahs over the baby and pretty much ignores Tessa," says their mom, Kim, of Portland, OR. "It's painful to watch."

Babies are crowd-pleasers, no doubt about it. And even if your toddler doesn't show it, chances are "she feels at least a little jealous and left out whenever her new sibling gets all the comments and compliments," says Nicole Caldwell, Ph.D., a pediatric psychologist at Children's Medical Center of Dallas.

Not paying attention to these feelings could aggravate your toddler's behavior. To prevent this from happening:

* Spread the word. You can't control what strangers in the supermarket say, but you can coach grandparents, neighbors, and friends to give your toddler a big hello and ask how she's doing before they focus on the baby.

* Include her in compliments. When someone raves "Your baby has the most gorgeous eyes," say something like "Yes, he does, and so does his big sister, Sarah. They both inherited that beautiful brown from their dad."

* Introduce her too. People will often ask, "What's your baby's name?" Use this as an opportunity to give your older child's name as well, and comment on what a wonderful big sister she is.

* Make her feel important. When everyone's fussing over the baby, let your older child give her brother a bottle or hand him a toy. Playing the role of the big sibling will help her feel included.

* Tell her she's special. If she says something to you about being overlooked, reassure her that you (and Daddy, and Grandpa, and Grandma...) love her and don't mean to leave her out.

* Give her extra attention. Set aside time to do something together, such as read a book or work on a puzzle. Stress that these are big-kid activities and the baby's too young to enjoy them. An extra dose of love from you now can make up for the attention the baby got earlier.

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