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Teaching your child to be gentle with siblings

Thursday, October 22nd, 2009 by:

One issue moms often talk to me about is how strongly they react when their older child hurts, or is rough with, the baby. This is really common, especially if the older child is under five. Young kids are often rough with their little siblings–sometimes it is intended and behavioral, and sometimes it’s just because they get really excited and can’t control those big feelings.

Either way, it can make your protective instincts take over and your response can be more intense than you meant it to be.

Safety is important and older siblings must learn to be gentle with baby siblings, but sometimes “blowing up” can lead to more of the very behaviors that made you upset in the first place. They can add to any feelings the older child may have of feeling less important or less loved than the baby. This is not rational, young kids don’t reflect on their behaviors, they just focus on how they feel.

Here are some things you can do:

1. Remember to try and stay neutral, which is very hard, I know. You can be serious and firm, but if you “fly off the handle,” it won’t help.

2. Sit down with your older child every day for some connecting play with her alone. She may even want you to baby her and give her the same kind of attention the baby gets. This is fine and she will not regress permanently. In fact, it can be tremendously helpful and strengthening for your older child.

Pull out baby pictures, her favorite toys or little outfits she wore when she was younger and tell her lots of stories about when she was a baby. This alone may decrease her negative feelings or behaviors regarding the baby.

3. Talk to your older child in a calm moment about the importance of being careful and gentle with the baby and let her know that there will be consequences if she chooses to be rough.

What I like to suggest is an interruption. It’s not a traditional time-out, instead, she is asked to go somewhere else to think for a few minutes and can come back when she is ready to comply. You don’t have to lecture or discuss it when the interruption is over, just welcome her back and repeat the routine until the behavior stops. If you are calm and consistent, it will work.

4. Help your older child make good choices by offering alternate ways to interact with the baby and let her know when you notice her trying to be appropriate. Remember too, that the baby is not made of glass. Babies are pretty tough and, within reason, being squeezed and picked up by siblings is part of living in a family.

Jennifer Kolari is a child and parent therapist, and found of Connected Parenting. For more information you can contact Jennifer at or visit

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2 Responses to “Teaching your child to be gentle with siblings”

  1. Around the Web… – Celebrity Baby Blog – Says:

    […] on teaching your children to be gentle with their siblings — Just the Facts, […]

  2. Sarah M. Says:

    I nanny for a family that has a 4 year old boy and recently adopted a 1 year old girl from Ethiopia (they live in Colorado). The boy is constantly squeezing her, throwing stuff at her, hitting her, etc. We are forever saying “Don’t touch the baby’s face.” After several weeks (she’s only been here for 6 weeks) the mom finally got to the bottom of the problem. It wasn’t jealously on his part, but him wanting the baby to actually play with him. The mom explained to him that she is still too little to really ‘play’ with him and they she will when she gets bigger. And that if he is constantly in her face and bugging her that she won’t want anything to do with him and will continue to push him away. He is finally starting to get better about it! (He did have his parents to himself for 4 years before there was an instant 1 year old in the house. So I understand why he acts out towards her.) She is learning to defend herself, though. At only 7 lbs lighter than him, will bypass him in weight sooner rather than later. And she pinches hard. She’s one tough cookie already!!