My three-year-old son, Josh, sometimes hits the baby. He seems to hate him. What should I do?
It is natural for an older child to feel jealous of a baby brother or baby sister. Josh was once the center of your attention. Now he sees you giving more time to the baby. He may feel pushed aside. He may fear that you no longer love him. These can be strong feelings. And Josh doesn’t know how to deal with them.
First stop the hitting. Grasp Josh’s hand and say firmly, “No hitting. That hurts.” You might add, “I won’t let anyone hurt the baby. And I won’t let anyone hurt you.”
Help Josh express his feelings in words. Help your older child find the right words—even angry ones. Don’t let him act on his words by hitting, pinching or teasing the baby.
Find ways to give Josh attention. You might do this when the baby is asleep. Take Josh in your lap and talk to him. Or get down on the floor and play with him. You might get a relative or a friend to care for the baby for an hour. Take Josh for a walk. Go to the park and have a picnic of cheese and crackers.
Think about the routines you have with Josh. Your bedtime routine might go like this: Make sure the TV is off. Have a snack of graham crackers and milk. Brush teeth. Have a playful bath. Read or tell a story. Hug and kiss goodnight.
Look for things throughout the day that make Josh feel special. “You have sharp eyes. You can see the squirrel in the tree.” Call attention to things he can do that the baby cannot. “You put your shoes on by yourself. What a big boy you are!” When he says something to you, stop what you are doing and really listen to him.
Show Josh ways to play gently with the baby under your supervision. This will help him feel strong and smart. A three-year-old can share the pictures in a book or stack boxes, for example. Playing together will help each child gain respect for the other.
As your children grow, there will be times when they won’t like each other. Make it clear that you don’t allow hitting and hurting. Help each child feel special. Show affection and let both children know that you love them.
A brother or sister needs to be old enough, mature enough and aware of how to take care of your baby before you can even consider leaving your baby with them, even for a short period of time. Most older brothers and sisters must be at least in their teens and have had a lot of experience handling the baby under your direct supervision before you can consider leaving them alone together.
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