Q: Dear Principal Lisa, The Nanny Queen,
“My daughter just turned three and I have just delivered my second child. I am really struggling as her behaviour has got worse, there are lots of times where she just wont listen to me. She screams no at me really loudly and she has pushed me a few times. I try to stay calm, but when it gets too much I have been putting her in her room to calm down and then she just cries even more. The shouting gets worse and it wakes the baby up and then both children are crying. I’ve tried praising her when she is kind to the baby and I have tried including her as much as I can with the babies care. I feel so guilty all the time as a Mum and don’t know what to do to help her. Please can you help Lisa?”
Marwa, Mum to two little girls.
A: Dear Marwa, I understand, this sounds tough for you. Thank you for writing to me and for sharing your story with other families who may feel the same. Having two children under the age of three is not easy, it’s quite frankly exhausting. I think sometimes as adults we underestimate how tricky it can be for a toddler when a new baby arrives. Sometimes our expectations are a little high as we hope for the new siblings to bond quickly. It will take time, babies are not much fun to toddlers and of course they take up their Mum’s time which generates some big feelings. We have two issues here, the introduction of a new baby and the introduction of a new parenting technique, which doesn’t seem to be working. Sending the older child to their room.
Here are a few tips that may help Marwa.
Start the day the best you can. Avoid taking your new baby into your older child’s room first thing in the mornings. I think it helps to start the day without the new baby in your arms. The first thing the older child sees is Mum/Dad as they used to be with space in their arms.
Expectations, keep them at a sensible level. Children are not always keen on babies, they are loud, sleepy and a bit stinky, give your child time…
Take a moment to imagine how you might feel if your Husband came home one day with a new partner who was moving in. A funny thought, but it might feel a bit like that for your older child. This would generate a lot of feelings and toddlers are not equipped at three to regulate these emotions very well.
You can try asking your child to mirror what you are doing such as changing a nappy with a doll beside you during busy moments. Ask them to help you and be really specific with praise such as "I like the way you knew what baby needed and you went and got a muslin cloth" etc.
It can be helpful to create a basket of sticker books/lap play items as you may be sat on the sofa feeding a lot of the time and your older child might want to join you; and it will be super handy to have things nearby.
Keep in mind that children sometimes regress or act younger than their age after the arrival of a new baby, such as having toilet training accidents or drinking from a bottle. These are normal reactions to the stress of a new sibling that require extra love and tolerance.
Try to use praise effectively by tailoring it to your child in that moment. It’s great to hear praise at any time, but it’s more effective when it’s “ in the moment” . Thank her for being so cooperative and helpful during feeding time etc.
Avoid generic praise such as “good job, good girl” etc. This is usually not enough to connect a child to the behaviour that they just got right. Try to encourage their own positive feelings about the experience. "Did it feel nice when you helped Mummy" or "you played nicely with your toys?"
Be curious to understand your child more, and keep connected so you can keep learning as a parent. Instead of sending her to her room. Tell her you understand she is angry, empathise and listen. Tell her you are there to help and listen. Try to make her feel safe whilst she feels the big emotions by staying calm. Let her know they will pass soon.
These tricky early days with a new baby will pass, take each day as it comes. Try to give yourself some self-care each day and reach out for help if you need to.