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The Competent Parent: Jealous of the baby

Headshot2011Welcome to our weekly online series on parenting advice with Annapolis, Maryland, expert Dr. Deborah Wood.

Jealous of the Baby

Dear Dr. Debbie,

My three-year-old has been throwing tantrums and has generally been in a bad mood since her baby brother arrived a month ago. I’m exhausted – night feedings, one-armed house cleaning (if any), arguing with or trying to placate the three-year-old. Any hope for us?

Weary Woman

Dear Weary,

Everyone in your family is going through a major life adjustment. That in itself can be exhausting. Your princess has been dethroned (at least that’s what it feels like). Her major food maker/ trip planner / bath giver / story reader / boo boo kisser now says, “Not now, Honey.” At three she is still very dependent on your mood to set her own, so if you’re have a bad morning after a night of little sleep, she absorbs the negative vibe.

A hopeful piece of information you can cling to is that you should expect some family turbulence for about eight months, then things will fall into place. That’s the typical length of time it takes everyone to get used to the new dynamics of having a little brother in the mix.

Here are a couple of tips from those who have gone before you:


Help your older child go through her own baby things to decide what she wants to keep for posterity and what she wants her brother to have. Expect her to change her mind about some things, but help her know that this is in her control. If you had written six months ago, I would have advised taking what she doesn’t want to a consignment shop, then buying hand-me-downs from anonymous children who outgrew them as you need them for the baby. In the future, be clear with your children about what belongings can be considered personal property, and enforce getting permission before they can use their sibling’s stuff.


Keep a regular routine for the older child as much as possible. She needs to know there are still things she can count on despite the dramatic changes she is not yet used to. Maintain as many of her weekly outings and daily rituals as you can. A good support network helps with this. If you don’t currently have one, join a moms’ club, babysitting co-op, religious congregation, or community association. You and she need to have regular contact with folks whose lives are not in upheaval, and who will love you truly.


Get in the habit of stocking low shelves in the refrigerator and kitchen cabinets with ready-to-drink or ready-to-eat snacks for her. If you sit down to nurse the baby, you can assuage her sense of loss by directing her to get something for herself and join you. Keep some of her books in your usual nursing place to nurture her intellect. This will “feed” the baby’s brain, too, and may develop into a family reading ritual for the next several years.

A new family member is a blessing and a challenge.

Dr. Debbie

Don’t miss last week’s advice for grandparents who double as babysitters.

Dr. Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis. She holds a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Long time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at drdebbiewood.com

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments or submit a question to Dr. Debbie at editor@chesapeakefamily.com.

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