There’s plenty to worry about with a new baby: the lack of sleep, the nightmare nappies, whether they’re feeding properly – or enough, or at all. But one thing parents who’ve been through it before may not anticipate with their second (or third) child is what on earth you do... when your toddler hates their brand new brother or sister.
And we’re talking hates. The type of unadulterated, unregulated loathing that only a three-year-old can express, and does, when you least expect it: in the cheese aisle at the supermarket, when you’re trying to get them to put their coat on, when you cut their toast into squares instead of triangles. or when you dare to turn off ‘Peppa Pig’.
The blistering toddler tantrum is enough to send you running headfirst for a glass of wine as soon as bedtime rolls around – but what happens when the cause isn’t temporary, and is something they’re just going to have to learn to live with?
When we went as a family to the hospital for our 20-week scan, and found out we were having a boy, my daughter cried because she “really, really, REALLY WANTED A SISTER.” A week after he was born, she came into the nursery with a heavy sigh. “Do you like having a baby brother?” I asked her. She nodded solemnly. “Yes,” she lisped. “But when’s he going back?”
I’ve known friends unable to leave their toddler alone in the room with their newborn for fear they might lash out and I’ve heard stories of four-year-olds picking their brand-new baby brothers or sisters out of their cots or Moses baskets “to play with”.
It’s a perennial problem, and one that can feel even tougher the closer children are in age – especially if they’re both in nappies. One dad took to a parenting forum on Reddit to ask for advice from other parents who’ve been through these challenging times.
In a post titled, ‘New baby and angry toddler. Please help us. Please’, he described himself and his wife as “emotional wrecks”.
Turns out their three-year old was very excited in the run-up to the arrival of his new sibling but started acting out after his brother was born, the dad wrote.
“He’s yelling over things that he normally wouldn’t. Refusing to do things that normally he wouldn’t refuse. He has told my wife that he wants her to leave in the car, he has said that he wants his brother to go away and live somewhere else. He literally was saying this while kissing the newborn on the head.
“We don’t know what to do. I feel like we are failing him by not being able to help him with his feelings.”
People were quick to respond with their tried and tested tips, which ranged from giving the older sibling a “gift from the baby” when it’s born, to goodie bags lasting a few days after birth to help them adjust, to lots of “extra hugs and cuddles”.
“You guys have always been with him only and naturally he is going to feel ‘left out’ and perhaps ‘less important’ now that this little person is hogging all the attention,” one user wrote, while suggesting the parents try setting up specified periods where their son spent quality one-on-one time with mum or dad, and then gradually asking him to help with bath-time, nappies and telling the baby a bedtime story.
“Talk to him about how he’s feeling and acknowledge his feelings, be patient with them and tell him you understand.”
And others advised not losing hope – because it will pass, sooner or later.
“We just tried to give him a lot of attention, consistency in his routine, and one on one time,” one user said of their own experience. “It took a few weeks, but the acting out and tantrums calmed down. By two months out, it was a lot better. He also fell in love with his sister and they are now super sweet together.”