It’s very common for siblings to be jealous of one another, especially when a new baby is welcomed into the family. It can be a tricky situation to manoeuvre and it’s one some parents aren’t sure how to handle.
It doesn’t matter if it’s a boy or a girl, the likelihood of a sibling getting jealous of another usually depends on the level of sensitivity of the child who is jealous, Douglas says.
“Some kids always need a lot more attention than other kids,” Douglas explains. “It’s just the way they’re wired. So I think if you have an older child who really needs a lot of care, reassurance, nurturing and so on, they’re going to find it much more difficult to share you with a sibling than a much more independent-spirited kid.”
While sibling rivalries aren’t new to family dynamics, it can still leave mom and dad feeling hopeless on what to do in this situation.
To understand these dynamics and how they unfold over time, researchers at the University of Michigan conducted a study that included 200 young adult participants. What they found was that people who received equal affection from their parents in comparison to their sibling reported equal jealousy between themselves and their sibling, researchers said. These people reported higher self-esteem, more secure attachment styles and had less distress in their romantic relationships.
However, when people felt one sibling was getting preferential treatment over the other, regardless of it was true or not, they tended to experience more distress in future romantic relationships.
But how can a parent tell if a child is jealous of the other? Sometimes the signs may be so subtle, you may not notice them in the moment, Douglas says.
“They can show their jealousy in all kinds of different ways,” she says. “At the behavioural level, they may start acting out or acting like a baby because they want more of your attention. A three- or four-year-old who is completely independent will start talking in baby talk or saying they need to be carried to bed. They’re just trying to reassure their presence in the family. But then other kids will be more subtle. They might just be in a bad mood or they might lose it over things that don’t normally bother them.”
To help manage the situation and ensure that every child feels included within the family, Douglas suggests a few tips.
“First of all, recognize that it’s a normal rite of passage and that you will get through this,” she says. “Also look for ways to provide reassurance to the older child, and to spend time with the older child.”
The baby may be just as happy if they’re with another family member or family friend, Douglas says, so make those opportunities happen so that you can dedicate your time to the older sibling as well.
“The older child really wants that moment of connection with you,” she says. “So if other people are willing to pitch in and help, then try to protect some of that time with the older child.”
READ MORE: The negative effects of spanking could impact a child for up to 10 years: study
Douglas also wants to remind mothers in particular that breastfeeding doesn’t have to get in the way and can actually still be a great opportunity to bond with the older child.
“If you’re tied up with the baby, you can also have your spare hand helping your three-year-old to do a puzzle or simple crafts together,” Douglas points out. “You can even read books together or even just talk together.”
In some cases, however, the amount of jealousy one child has towards the other could be worrisome.
Sometimes, Douglas says, older children have been known to hit their baby siblings, pinch them, and bite them and so on.
If this happens and you feel like you’re out of ideas, don’t feel like you’re alone. Reach out to someone, like a child expert, who has expertise in this department.
“If you felt that there was some kind of intent or you’re just not sure, you want to help your child to work through some of those emotions,” Douglas says. “There are art and play therapists out there who work really well with children and they’ll use art therapy to get at the root of some of those emotions… So there are options and don’t feel like you have to solve this one your own.”