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Major toddler v baby jealousy - how to approach?


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Two daughters, two years apart. Toddler M is nearly 2.5 years old, baby S is 5.5 months old. I'm at home with them, M goes to nursery a few afternoon sessions a week and we do a playgroup on Thursday mornings so yes we are at home quite a bit but there's something nice to do every day. Baby S is very easy and laid back and hardly cries. I do hold her a lot but it's not a situation in which I need to attend to a needy baby all the time. She's also mostly bottle fed now so there are no long breastfeeding sessions that would contribute to the jealousy.


M used to be ok with S until S was about 4 months old. Since then, she's been trying to squeeze ("big hug" she says, yeah right, suffocate you mean ;)), hit and generally bother her. Initially I would let her do it as long as S wasn't too bothered and then I would gently move her away from the baby but M is so strong that I fear she could really hurt her. I'm pretty sure her intentions are just to bother/upset me and her sister because negative attention is better than no attention but with her dockworker type approach she could really hurt her.


What's the best approach? M is very strong with language which may sometimes make us overestimate her emotional maturity. I've tried reasoning with her, gently distracting her as mentioned above and lately we've been a lot tougher - whenever she'd hit her sister I would drag her to her room and leave her there for 10 minutes. Does the trick for an hour or so of good behaviour but she just comes back with a vengeance. M generally seems easily bored and doesn't like to play alone much so I try to engage in play and arts/crafts with her but I can't do it all the time.


How do we improve her behaviour? Should be we tougher or gentler? What has worked for you in dealing with sibling jealousy?

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Hi SannePanne, Merry Christmas. I think what you're describing is pretty normal behaviour, which is not to say it's not really difficult. We have similar issues, though with a slightly bigger age gap - boy of just over 3 and girl of 7 months. I don't think there's a magic answer but here are a couple of thoughts. You could try putting the baby down more - maybe you need a mat in the room/s you are in most if you don't have one already. Be really clear about what's not acceptable - eg any pinching or biting of baby earns 2 mins on step or equivalent. I think 10 mins is too long. Try a reward chart for positive behaviour - eg being gentle with baby - and the reward could be something special you do one to one. Think of times of day that are particular hotspots - for me it's often bedtime - and try to reorganise that time to give your toddler special time. Try to encourage your toddler to join in games that make the baby laugh - 'oh look, she thinks you're so funny', 'she thinks you're such a great big sister', 'i think she wishes she could dance like you' etc. Also remember that you're not a miracle worker - I think some of this stuff is inevitable and hopefully she'll just grow out of it (that's what I'm hoping anyway). I'll be really interested to see what others say.
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Merry Christmas to you too, edanna and thanks for the feedback. Can't wait till our baby starts sitting by herself, it'll be much easier to put her down without needing a bouncy seat or putting her on her tummy which she gets fed up with quite quickly.


As for correcting the bad behaviour - 2 minutes on the stairs don't seem to impress her much but 10 minutes in her room don't seem THAT much better (she does get upset but her behaviour doesn't improve much) and I don't actually like running the risk that she may get a negative association with her own bedroom. It's probably more like 5 minutes she spends there, I don't actually count but it's longer than I would put her on the stairs (I take my time to wash bottles when I do put her in her room :-$).


Reward charts - was talking about that idea with my husband today. I agree they could work but am a bit worried that she may think good behaviour must always be rewarded with something. Have you or has anyone else had that experience?


The answer must lie in redirecting (which I could be better at), lots of positive attention (which I do give) and time. Can't wait to read other tips/experiences!

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I have a friend who did a reward chart with her little girl. Being nice to her baby sister was just one thing on there, along with getting dressed without a fuss etc, so it's not all about the baby. And I think it's been pretty successful. I haven't done it myself yet because we've been doing rewards for potty training and didn't want more than one reward system on the go. I don't think you need to worry about always expecting a reward - I think the idea is that eventually the good behaviour becomes the norm and the rewards are forgotten naturally. Certainly that's how it's worked for us with potty training. And the reward doesn't necessarily have to cost anything. If you do decide to try it I'd be really interested to hear how it goes.
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