It is common for toddlers and small kids to be rough with a new baby. They sometimes hug the infant a little too long or a little too hard (or both). Sometimes they pinch, squeeze or even hit the poor little baby. What prompts them to behave this way? What can parents do about it?
If your little one is hurting the new baby, consider the following tips:
Don’t Ask Why
Toddlers don’t know why they hurt the baby, so don’t bother asking them why they are being so rough. For instance, don’t say, “Why do you do that? Don’t you love your new sister?” Your youngster has no insight into the matter. In fact, when your child approaches the baby to touch her soft skin or look at her big eyes, he generally has no intention of hurting her. However, within moments, “something” overtakes him and his arms lash out as if they are running on their own power. When his parents start yelling at him for hurting the baby, he is often genuinely surprised at the sudden turn of events. Why is everyone mad at him again? Why did his arms do that?
Since it isn’t the conscious mind that is misbehaving, there is really no point in talking to the toddler’s conscious mind. That is, don’t waste your time telling him to be nice to the baby or not to hurt the baby. Don’t ask him why he is hurting the baby. None of this will help at all.
Instead, it’s more helpful to work with the unconscious mind. The toddler’s behavior is showing what the unconscious mind is feeling: anger. The youngster has been replaced with a special little bundle that is demanding everyones attention. This is making the toddler feel displaced, ignored, neglected, sad and jealous. But it is also making him mad. He wants to get rid of this intruder who is ruining his party.
Parents can speak directly to the unconscious mind by naming the anger. “Oh, I see that there’s a part of you that is mad at Baby Jenny.” (This statement is very true. Only part of your toddler resents the baby. Other parts of your child are both loving and intensely protective of the infant.) After naming the feeling, you can try to help the mad and hurting part: “We can’t hurt the baby. What we CAN do is make your mad part feel better. Would you feel better if you could sit in Mommy’s lap for awhile? Do you need some more stories or maybe a treat?” and so on. Acknowledging, accepting and addressing the pain of the hurting part helps the hurting part to calm down.
Interestingly, direct interventions like punishment generally have no positive effect on rough toddler behavior. In fact, the more the parents punish a toddler for hurting a baby, the more the toddler tends to hurt the baby. Sometimes, giving positive attention for GENTLE behavior can be helpful in reducing rough behavior. Try using the CLeaR Method – comment, label, reward (see Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice for details). “You’re touching the baby so softly. That’s so gentle of you – what a good brother you are. I think that deserves a big kiss/extra story/etc.”
Help the Child Bond with the New Baby
Allowing your older child to still be a baby can help reduce feelings of anger, insecurity and jealousy. Refer to your little ones (the new baby and the other children) as “little ones” – as in, “Good Morning, Little Guys! How are all my little people doing this morning?” By linking the other small children with the baby, the children feel that they haven’t lost out – they are still loved in that special baby-love way. In fact, be careful not to promote the small children to “big boy” or “big girl” now that the baby is here – unless they’re teenagers, they aren’t big yet! Let the whole group be little and you’re more likely to see a strong, loving bond forming between the children and the baby and a little less likely to see physical aggression.
Interestingly, it’s best NOT to give an older child more individual attention at this time because this behavior sends the message that there is not enough love to go around. Instead, try to include the older ones with the baby in one big, happy family. “Let’s take the baby to the park with us,” or “Let’s let the baby read the book with us,” or “Let’s let the baby watch us bake today” are all inclusive statements that show the child that you will not abandon the baby and you will not abandon him. Inclusiveness increases the older child’s sense of security and reduces his feelings of insecure competition with the baby.
Consider Bach Flower Remedies
Bach Flower Remedies can often help reduce aggressive and jealous behaviors. Just add two drops of this harmless tincture to a bit of liquid (juice, soda, water, milk, chocolate milk or anything else), 4 times a day until the behavior is no longer a problem. The remedies are available in health food stores and on-line. Of the 38 Remedies in the Bach system, try Holly (for jealousy) and Vine (for aggressive behavior). If you like, you can mix both together in a Bach Mixing Bottle (an empty glass bottle with a glass dropper, available where the remedies are sold). Put two drops of each remedy in the small mixing bottle along with water and about a tsp of brandy (to help prevent bacteria in the bottle). From the mixing bottle, drop 4 drops in liquid, 4 times a day until the behavior is no longer a problem. Read more about Bach Flower Remedies on this site, online and through self-help books. Alternatively, call a Bach Flower Practitioner to help select individually tailored remedies. Bach Remedies are excellent to try when you are worried that your toddler may really hurt your baby – particularly because toddlers are usually too young for therapy.
What to Do In the Moment
Speak slowly and firmly when correcting your youngster, but refrain from showing real upset. Of course, protect the baby! Try not to allow the older child to be alone with the little one. However, as you probably know all too well, your toddler can hurt the baby even while the baby is being held in your arms! When that happens, stand up and move out of the child’s reach without saying a word. Withdrawing attention by this quiet move is more effect than looking the little one in the eye and shouting “NO!” Don’t actually ignore your child – just lightly remove yourself and the baby for a few moments. You are trying to keep the infant safe while you are minimizing negative attention to the older one. Make a simple rule and repeat it as necessary: “Gentle with the baby.” Refrain from the negative version (“We don’t hurt the baby”) because this is likely to get translated by the toddler’s highly emotional brain as an instruction TO hurt the baby!
Patience is Required
It’s unpleasant but normal for toddlers and preschoolers to hurt a new baby. Showing your understanding is an important way to help start building your child’s emotional intelligence. Although a child’s rough behavior is very upsetting to parents, it’s important that parents not make matters worse by showing anger or becoming very punitive. Patience is required! With your gentle approach, chances are that your toddler will move through his upset feelings and aggressive behavior much more quickly.