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Acting out after sibling's birth: I miss the old sweet child!

I think every mama of more than one child has had some angst over the resulting complex relationships; and it's the rare eldest kid who doesn't act out at least a little in the weeks and months following the transition from "only child" to "sibling." Mama G is having some family growing pains of her own:

I am a mama to a four year old girl and a new baby girl (born Sept. 2nd). Since baby #2 has arrived, things have been pretty crazy. My 4 y/o is totally in love with her and wants to do everything to help with her, "new baby sister" but she is giving me and sometimes her father a really hard time. She has begun to talk back, cover her ears when I talk to her, yell at me, refuse to nap, refuse to eat, refuse to do most of anything I ask of her.  Yesterday she actually raised her hand to hit me while I was helping her to take a nap. 

I've tried spending special alone time with her, I've tried talking to her about her behavior, I've even tried taking away privileges and I feel like nothing is working. This behavior is totally atypical of her. I know it will pass (or at least that is what I keep telling myself) but I feel like I need to do more to help her through this period. Does anyone out there have any specific parenting books they have read and would recommend? Are there any parenting classes in Portland that you have attended and found worthwhile (we are in the NW but can also travel if it's worth the effort). Has anyone else been through a similar experience?  Help! I miss my daughter and know she is hurting... would love some urbanMama advice. Thanks!

What has helped you through these tough parenting straits? We've talked a bit about preparing for a new sibling, but it would be great to hear more advice.


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We love Sibliings without Rivarly as a book to help with sibling relationships. Neither my or my partner's parents did a good job at helping our relationships with our siblings and they are still strained today. From reading this book I can see a lot of people are in the same boat. My aunt has a 60 something friend who still says that the worst day of her life was when her brother was born.

We had a bit of a rough start with with our two - they are four years apart. It was further complicated by our youngest being placed with us at three weeks of age and less than nine hours notice. (We are an adoptive family). There was no time to prepare physically, mentally or emotionally - the house was a mess, we had no groceries, running low on toliet paper and what not (I was going to go shopping that day). But we made it through. I will never forget my oldest putting on her best ballet outfit to bang on a stranger's door and demand her baby sister. Even though it was exciting for her, it still was hard to wake up one morning with the world revovling around you and by bedtime you are sharing. In fact you are sharing but the little one is not - from a toddler/preschool prespective babies break all the rules. They do not wait their turn, they cry, etc. They are just horrible little playmates.

We are really working hard on them having a good relationship and so far it seems to be working. Coming up on two years later it is a lot better. Our almost 6 and almost 2 girls love each other and can't wait to see each other. It is kind of sad when all a 2 year old wants to do is go pick her sister up from school. Our oldest can't wait to introduce everyone that will listen to her little sister and she is very protective of her.

What a timely post. I have two boys, 4.5 and almost 3 and just had a baby girl in August. People have asked whether adjusting to three kids has been hard and the honest answer is that the hardest part (by far, even worse than the sleepless nights) has been the acting out of my older two children. Whether directed at each other or the two innocent 18 month olds that happen to visit our house occasionally, I can't help but have visions of my kids as having permanantly transformed into selfish terrors. Not that they were perfect before she was born, but the recent behavior is slightly beyond my capacity to handle without emotion.

What you are experiencing sounds familiar. When our second was born I was prepared for resentment of the baby, but I wasn't prepared for the anger to be directed at me. Our oldest child wanted nothing to do with me for probably 2 months. He insisted that his father do EVERYTHING. That got old fast.

What has helped? I just keep reminding myself that it's normal and that time will help. We've also started a nightly routine of leaving the baby home with dad for half an hour while the boys and I walk around the neighborhood to have some "big boy time". Reinforcing how great it is to be the older sibling (who gets to eat ice cream, watch videos, etc.) has also helped as has playdates with friends or family without the baby (and even the other sibling). Good Luck!

Wow, I feel for you. I also have a new baby, born Aug 31, and a preschooler, and it's not easy! Luckily our 3 yo seems to be doing fairly ok most of the time with the transition (though frankly she already demonstrated some of that behavior, like talking back, refusing to listen to us, etc before her brother was born!). The second week that the baby was home was awful, however: 3 yo extremely needy, cranky, horrible horrible bedtimes, but I think she wasn't feeling very well physically either due to a cold.

Now she's back to pretty normal behavior most of the time although I think she sometimes takes advantage of me being occupied with the baby. We've tried hard to give her as much one-on-one time with each parent as possible and have kept to her normal daily routine. Also praising every well-behaved action! And we've tried to keep behavioral expectations and consequences the same as before baby and still consistently enforced. Sounds like you're trying all the normal stuff, not much more you can do except to continue giving her as much attention as possible (exhausting as that is) and being clear on expectations. You're right that it will pass, it has to!

One thing that has worked for us in the past is reward chart type things, ie if you take a nap (or stay quietly in your bed, or don't hit all day, or whatever), you get a little prize, or a sticker on a chart that leads to a prize. Sometimes it feels like bribery but when I'm desperate I just don't care, and it does give the child the choice to do or not do the desired behavior.

Good luck to you, congratulations on the new baby, and I hope you're getting some sleep!

Yes, very timely post! We are heading into week 10 with new baby and our almost 3 year old son and it sounds like we're living the same life! The first month was definitely the worst--HUGE tantrums, lots of hitting, TONS of screaming, refusing to go to bed, etc. It was pretty shocking, we were definitely not prepared... There were plenty of days that my husband came home from work to a pretty grim household, and one day I even called him to come home early because I was so beside myself.

The last 3-4 weeks have been dramatically better, we've hit our stride and it's going pretty well. Going back to school definitely helped--Anders was happy to go back to his old rhythm, play with friends, etc. and his teacher says he's having his best days there yet--a huge change from the days he was there right after the baby came. Bedtime is completely back to normal after weeks of him not going to bed before 9, sometimes even 10 at night. It's easier said than done, but we've mostly ignored the negative behaviors (tantrums and screaming) and insisted that he use words to tell us what he needs and how he feels...I've given myself a few time outs just to avoid getting caught up in the negative energy and stay on top of the situation.

In the first couple of weeks I felt like I'd ruined him by having another baby, but I dont feel that way anymore--he's doing great. Hang in there, I think you'll find that things will get better with a little time and patience.

The one thing that I've noticed (with help from other mamas) is that the problems with the oldest tend to correspond sometimes with a particular developmental stage of the younger. Our older son did really great in so many ways when his brother was born, but when his brother started walking, holy moly did he lose it. Frequent, scary, and completely bewildering meltdowns. We realized that by having a more mobile brother, our older son lost some major control.

What we have found to truly work is doing whatever we can to recognize that the older one is older and giving him so much CONTROL over things. Not big things, just things like making his own sandwich, clearing the table, picking weeds, latching himself into the carseat, stuff we know he knows how to do already but which give him a sense of power in his life and distinguish him from his brother.

You have given your daughter a major gift of a sibling -- someday she will know it.

Reading your post, you're doing everything right. This just takes time. My girls were a little more than 2.5 years apart and it was hard at first. They still have their moments but I see the beginnings of fierce affection and mutual empathy. It's really beautiful.

Sarah C: My MIL gave me that book! I'll have to pull it out. This would be a good time to get ready for the next stage.

It will get easier. Our now 7 yr old had a rough time adjusting to her now 4.5 yr old twin brothers. We spent a lot of time arranging playdates, etc. for our older daughter to keep her life as "normal" as possible. Several friends gave her big sister gifts. We also had the babies buy her gifts at christmas (bubbles, stickers, etc.). Remember that other than feedings - if you are nursing - there are plenty of people who want to hold a new baby - let them and then you will be free to cuddle your big one. We also had the twins fly like superman and give her tons of kisses each time before we/I nursed them. It will get easier. Congrats on your new baby.

Oh yeah! My boys are almost exactly 2 years apart...I always tell everyone the first month of having two was the worst month and it only got better from there (for the most part). My older son was a very attentive big brother and I tried to promote that as much as possible ("Eli can you get Ghee's wipes for him?" "Can you show Ghee how to hold a rattle? He's just a baby and doesn't know how to do all the cool things you can do.") There was a lot of me reminding Eli that baby's are loud and boring--sounds kinda mean, but I didn't want him to expect to have someone to play with. (BTW: His name is actually Gideon, but Eli couldn't pronounce it...3 years later, we still call him Ghee...be sure your oldest thinks of a good nickname, it will probably stick!)

There are two occasions that stick out in my mind as absolute sibling lows. The first was when Gideon was about 3 weeks old, he was on his little playmat thing-y and out of the blue Eli walked up and scratched his face to the point that Gideon was bleeding. I had an internal freakout, tried really hard to control it, and ended up sending Eli to his room with the loud "What did you do to your brother? You really gave him a bad boo-boo" speech. I wanted to make sure Eli knew what he did was wrong, so the rest of the day, I fussed over the baby, my thought being if he saw his negative behavior resulted in more attention to the baby, maybe he wouldn't want to do it anymore.

The second time, my mother was holding Gideon (about 2 months old then), while my husband and I were showing some friends around our new house. This was obviously not the first time my mom had held him, but it was possibly the first time she was alone in a room with the two of them while holding the little guy. Eli, who is still super-attached to my mom, proceeded to bite Ghee on the head, again, drawing blood. Being close to bedtime, we just put Eli to bed. My sweetest little guy had turned into a brother-hating monster, and I totally didn't know how to get him back.

But that was actually the worst of it. As Gideon started doing a little more, Eli became more enamored with him. They are 5 and 3 (on Sunday!), and they fight, and hit, and do all sorts of things that make me cringe. This morning though, my husband was walking Ghee to school, and I was walking Eli to school in the opposite direction. We were about a block away from Dad and Ghee and Eli looks at me and says, "Can you wait one second?" I said sure and he proceeded to run down the block to give his brother a big hug. The rest of the time we were in view, they were yelling I love you to each other (probably much to the chagrin of our single musician neighbor...sorry, dude!).

So yeah, that's my long post with no real advice. You're pretty much at the hardest part and you'll make it through!

so our second is almost 6 months old and her sister was just 4 a few weeks ago. things are going pretty well, but the oldest (vivian) is still pretty emotionally fragile. this morning she started crying about 1/2 hour after she woke up cause i didn't spend enough time with her anymore. this after we spent every waking minute together yesterday. what helps us is not to try and explain things away, as much as i want to. when she was upset this morning i answered with something like "wow, that's rough, we spent all our time together and it still wasn't enough. i'm really sorry."

in the beginning all her anger was directed at us, but after three months or so she started to get mad at her sister as well. i really encourage her to talk about whatever she is feeling. while this doesn't always make her feel better, it has given her a lot of perspective on the convoluded world of the heart. when her sister was about 4 months old she was saying "i have love in my heart and madness in my heart, it's complicated." ain't that the truth, sister.

so i guess my advice is to ride the waves of emotion as best you can, letting your oldest have all her feelings so that she can come through the other side. and then at the end of the day-or whenever you can- treat yourself to a coffee, a beer, a long shower... and give yourself a pat on the back for letting your kids be themselves.

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