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Tuesday 21 August 2018

Dilemmas: Sibling rivalry

My little girl’s jealousy is scaring me, I’m very afraid that she may try and hurt the new baby

Dear Virginia, I’m a single parent to a daughter of five. I recently had another baby (I’m now living with a very nice partner), partly because my daughter kept saying she wanted a baby brother or sister.

But now the baby’s here my daughter is so jealous. I’m sometimes frightened to leave the room when they’re together because I think she will pinch the baby or poke it in the eye.

We’ve tried everything - bribery, even smacking, I’m afraid, but nothing works. What can I do? Yours sincerely, Sharon

Virginia says

I'm frankly astonished you entertained the idea of having another baby. First your poor daughter has had to deal with having no father and then being introduced to a new one — which must have made her feel threatened — and now she has to cope with a tiny newborn who is fast taking all the remaining attention from her.

And the idea that you should have got pregnant on the basis of the fantasies of a five-year-old is even odder.

Didn't you realise that she had no idea of what a new sibling would mean in reality?

Didn't you consider that the age gap would probably be too great for them to have a truly enjoyable life of togetherness when they were young? Didn't it occur to you that one of the reasons your daughter wanted a sibling was because she wanted someone to love, and to love her — something that was lacking in her life?

What your daughter is telling you now, by behaving jealously towards the baby, and what she was telling you before, when she begged for a baby brother or sister, is that she feels she's not getting enough love and attention herself.

So forget about bribery and certainly forget about smacking. Leave the baby at home with your partner at least a couple of afternoons a week and focus on your daughter. Make these your special days together.

Confide in her, if you like, about how tired the new baby is making you. If your partner would do the same, that would be even better.

Involve her in the baby, as if it were a project that you and she share. Ask her advice on everything and praise her whenever she does something nice for her new sibling.

By making her feel special you not only might have a happier daughter but also, possibly, someone who will, in the future, be more of a help than a hindrance.

The readers say

Spend time with her

What to do? First, make some special time alone with her away from your home, renew an activity which you both enjoyed before the birth — fun in the park, swimming, walking the dog or whatever.

Secondly, involve her, say: “It would be really helpful if you could fold the babygros/ pair the bootees/bibs/ whatever”.

She needs to feel useful.

Jackie, by email

She feels left out

Your daughter is now the odd one out. She is living with one natural parent, but the baby has two parents to live with. A new child in a traditional family can bring enough problems, but with a stepfather on the scene things are bound to be even trickier. Set aside time for your partner to look after the baby while you and your daughter enjoy yourselves.

You must also enable your daughter to see herself as part of a loving family in the community, so do make friends with some happy families in the neighbourhood.

Connor, Galway

Reassure her

Smacking a child because she is jealous of a new sibling is not going to make her love the baby. Look at it from her point of view. She knows that her father is no longer part of her life and that, in this way, she is different from many other girls.

Now a new man has come into her life. This means she has two rivals for your affection. She needs endless reassurance that you love her and will never let her down. Your daughter needs time to feel really sure of her place in this new family situation. Be patient and loving and all will come right.

Anne, Skerries

Show her some love

Think of the changes your daughter has been through — new stepdad, new baby, starting school and much less time with you. She used to be the centre of your world. Shower your little girl with attention, praise her when she's good. When your baby's just a little older, it will worship its big sister, and that will help win her over — it worked with my daughter.

Mary, by email

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