Trying to cope with a newborn and a toddler add to the layer of intensity involved in having a very young family. More often than not, toddlers and pre-schoolers act out when they are feeling out of sorts themselves. The arrival of a sibling can upset the dynamics of a toddler’s life and acting out is a way of trying to navigate through that.
You may be several months into your life with more than one child, and feel things have been going smoothly, then suddenly your older child starts acting out. When things go smoothly at first then are followed with a period of unrest, it can often mean that the novelty of the new baby has worn off and big brother or sister has realised that the baby is here to stay. They understand that their is a shift away from them and the attention and affection they have enjoyed is now being shared with someone else.
There are ways to manage this so you all find your happy place again, but it needs to be a considered approach – one that won’t make your toddler feel further alienated or under threat. Here are some scenarios that are difficult to manage and a few ideas to help you through.
Suggest to your toddler that when the baby goes to sleep this is their special ‘mummy’ time. Do some one-on-one activities with them such as a cuddle on the couch and a story, or playing blocks – something that you know they enjoy doing. If they understand that the time when the baby sleeps is just for them, they will be much more inclined to cooperate when you are trying to settle their sibling to sleep.
Kids are pretty smart and any attention is better than no attention. If your child thinks you spend all your time with their baby brother or sister (because you probably do!) then they will do anything to get your attention, including waking them up when they know they are not supposed to. Focusing on the special ‘mummy’ time will help here. Consider taking them outside for a planned outdoor activity. You will have their full attention and their noise will not disrupt the baby as much.
The best thing you can do for a child in this situation is acknowledge their feelings and provide a safe space for them to express it. Try asking if they are feeling cross or angry at the baby, and explain to them that it is normal for big brothers or sisters to feel cross at their baby brother/sister. Let them know that it’s ok to feel the way they feel. Reassure them that Mummy loves them just as much as before the baby came along.
Again, this is a manifestation of the rivalry that the older child feels. Try not to make a big deal about it if your baby doesn’t get upset by it. Shining a light on behaviour that is not dangerous but deemed as ‘bad behaviour’ will increase the tension between you and your toddler. The less you focus on these ‘button-pushing’ actions, the less compelled your child will be to keep doing it.