Sibling jealousy in your toddler when you welcome a new baby is a common concern among parents. Here’s how one mama handled it with her toddler daughter.
“Mama, I don’t think you love me very much anymore,” said Maryam, out of the blue, while we were playing. Taking my eyes off from her little 1-year-old sister, Mahirah, I looked up at my older girl and saw her downcast eyes as she sat on the top of her slide, not budging. Behind her her feisty sister was trying to climb up the steps of the slide by herself. I quickly made my way behind Mahirah to make sure she didn’t fall, and as I was doing that, I responded “Of course Mama loves you baby. Why would you even say such a thing?”
That was when the floodgates opened. She started expressing herself and telling me how I am always more concerned with Mahirah; that I was often scolding her, even if it was not her fault; the fact that I chose to carry her sister over her; and her list went on. I patiently listened to her, and as she said her piece, I truly felt the pain that she was feeling.
Prior to having a second child, Maryam was my world (and she still is, don’t get me wrong — they are both my world). Maryam never had to worry about sharing her Mama, and from her point of view, whatever she needed or wanted, Mama was always there to do it for her. But now, as she puts it, I always say, “Hold on/wait a minute/can you please be patient/I’m holding your sister/wait till she naps then I will play with you,” and she truly dreads these words. Some days she does try to be patient, while on others, it results in a meltdown, which I can understand in retrospect, but in that moment, all you feel is frustration.
I dug deeper to find out what made her react that way. Her response — “You are always only watching Mahirah and not me. You don’t even watch me take the slide, or when I play or do a new trick (on the slide), but when Mahirah comes down the slide, you are always looking at her and you clap for her, but not me.”
I was about to explain to her that I had to watch her little sister because she could get hurt, but I thought against it in that moment. I went to her and picked her up (much to Mahirah’s dismay) and as I cradled her in my laps, I reminded her of an episode of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood (which by the way is a really good series for your kids to watch if you want them to comprehend certain messages, especially about sharing and new siblings) that we had watched, where Daniel was jealous of his parents’ attention on his baby sister. I explained to her that I love them both equally, the same way she loves her two soft toys and has to sleep with both of them as they were both special to her. In a small voice, she then asked, “Will I always be your baby?” “Forever and always,” I told her, an answer that made her smile and all hyped up for more playtime.
Having this conversation with her made me realise that children are often more perceptive than we realise. As much as I had prepared her for the arrival of her baby sister, the change in her life was drastic, especially in the little world she lives in. I realised that she had to sacrifice a lot, and even though she does not understand the concept of sacrifices at this age, subconsciously, as parents, there is the expectation for her to be patient, understanding and calm about having her life ‘messed up’ by this small person who demands all of her mum’s attention.
A letter to my eldest child: I’m sorry you had to bear the burden of being the firstborn
We expect the older child to give up their toys, to give in to the younger one, to be better behaved, but sometimes, we don’t realise that they are going through a lot of emotions. Expressing it comes in a variety of forms — temper tantrums, over emotional meltdowns, sensitivity, keeping to themselves, anxiety, clinginess, and so on. I personally call this the “sibling depression,” which is basically the emotional roller coaster the older sibling — be it toddler or teenagers — goes through after their younger sibling arrives. Some psychologists have even used the word “trauma” when studying older siblings’ reactions to a new younger sibling.
Often when we are dealing with two or more children in our lives, we might miss these signs that our older child might be facing adjustment issues to the new addition in the family. As parents, it’s so important to remember to take things easy on them, to not expect them to miraculously take to their younger siblings. Most important of all, we should reinforce how loved they are by us.