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Middle Child Is Jealous of New Baby
Q: My wife and I had our third boy six weeks ago. Our other two boys are five and two (almost three). The older boy adores his new sibling, while the two-year-old has had his share of misgivings. I know this is all pretty normal (I forgot to mention that they both started new schools, as well) but it has been rough! The two-year-old obviously wants more attention, and resorts to anything to get it -- including yelling, kicking, and intentionally not listening to us. We do our best to deal with the situation, but many times find ourselves yelling and forgetting everything we know about good parenting. My older son has a tendency to follow his younger brother's outbursts, and soon chaos abounds. I feel guilty about my lack of patience, and want so bad to develop my relationship with my boys, but feel I have less time to do so. Any suggestions?
A: It's interesting that you've both raised questions and answered them at the same time. This demonstrates to me that what you're going through is something many parents go through as additional family members come on the scene. I suspect that when your two-year-old was first born, your older son probably went through similar misgivings, but your days were not as occupied as apparently they are now. Change is difficult for all of us at any age. Clearly, having a new sibling, starting a new school, meeting new teachers, or being in a new environment can be particularly stressful for kids. I don't have an exact answer to your question, but first recognizing the problem is critical. This you've already done!
You're exactly right that they are trying to get your attention. Know that it is impossible for your older kids to continue to be "kings," getting the amount of attention from their parents that they have come to appreciate. I would try to include them in as many activities as you can. Things as simple as getting the diaper to help change the baby--being Mommy or Daddy's big helper. I also suggest that one of you needs to spend time daily with each of them for "special time," whether it's playing a game, reading a book, or running an errand together. Small flurries of attention can make a difference. Be sure not to give in to your kids automatically. They still need discipline. If their negative behaviors get your attention, you will, in fact, be reinforcing that behavior and they will continue it.
You also point out very correctly that this is stressful for adults. With so much to get done, approaching tasks in small pieces will make things easier to handle. When our patience is thinning, it may make a seemingly overwhelming situation worse. Are there any family or friends close by that can pinch hit, so you and your wife can go out as "adults?" You'd be amazed at how a couple of hours away engaged in an adults-only activity--a quick bite to eat or watching a movie--can change your perspective on everything. Try to relax. The anxieties and difficulties you are experiencing are normal. Things should definitely get better for everyone in the family with patience and support.
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Henry Bernstein, M.D., is currently the associate chief of the Division of General Pediatrics and director of Primary Care at Children's Hospital, Boston. He also has an academic appointment at Harvard Medical School.