Dear Susan,

I grew up in a family where my brother and I fought all the time. I have just discovered that I am expecting my second child, and I worry that the house could turn into a war zone of sibling rivalry, like my house was. My eldest child is a three-year-old girl and my new baby is due in March.

Petra, London


Dear Petra,

Congratulations on two fronts: first on your new pregnancy, and second, for realizing that cycles in families tend to repeat themselves, unless you make a conscious effort to do things differently!

Research has shown that almost all firstborn children under age four, up to 93% in one study do show some type of adjustment difficulty following the birth of their sibling. So, once the baby comes home, be alert for signs of regression in your elder child, such as suddenly needing additional help getting dressed, using the toilet, or feeding herself. Your daughter may also seek your attention by wanting to pretend to be a baby too. She may also demonstrate her jealousy or frustration by being very noisy around the baby, or even by being aggressive.

However, that said, there are many ways to reduce the intensity of sibling rivalry or sibling jealousy, and it can begin well before the new baby actually arrives. When you tell your eldest child that there is going to be a new baby, let her know that this is her baby, too. Continue throughout your pregnancy to refer to the baby as HER baby sister or brother. You can also encourage her to talk to the baby in your tummy, sing songs, and feel the baby kick.

Take your 3 year old on short shopping trips, where she has the opportunity of helping to choose items for the new baby. Once you bring the baby home, she will likely want to hold the baby. Even though it may be inconvenient, try to allow her a few moments throughout the day to hold, cuddle and observe her new sibling. (With your help, of course!) She can also take pride and develop a sense of competence in her big sister role if you give her ‘helping’ tasks, such as getting a diaper, alerting you to the baby’s cries, preparing formula, or bringing her baby a blanket.

If possible, it would also be helpful to schedule some one on one time with your eldest child, a time when she does not feel the need to compete for your attention. Some parents get the eldest child up a half hour or so before the baby wakes, others set aside time when the newborn is asleep in the afternoon to play a game, or read a book together.

The London Health Sciences Center offers sibling tours of the hospital as well as sibling classes to help parents prepare children for the new arrival. They can be reached at (519) 685-8438