Jealousy and Rivalry

Jealousy can be helpful as well as hurtful

It is a strong emotion even in grown-ups. It can be more disturbing to the very young child because he doesn't know just what has hit him.
If it is intense, it may sour his outlook on life for quite a while. But jealousy is one of the facts of life and can't be completely prevented, so parents shouldn't expect to accomplish the impossible. However, they can do a great deal to minimize it and to help the child  convert it into other feelings that are painless and constructive.  If he comes to realize that there is no reason to be so fearful  of a rival, it strengthens his character so that he will be better able to cope with rivalry situations later in life, at work, and at home.

Preparing the way for the baby

It is good for a child to know ahead of time that he is going to have a baby brother or sister,if he is old enough to understand such an idea at all, so that  he can get used to the idea gradually. Don't promise him it's going to be a girl or a boy; a child takes a promise like that seriously. Educators aadvice that the child should know that the  baby is growing inside his mother and should feel it move. It's hard to explain much to a child under 2.

The arrival of the baby should change a child's life as little as possible, especially if he has been the only child up to that  time. Emphasize the concrete things that will stay the same: you'll still have your same favourite toys; we'll still go to the same park to play;  we'll still have our special treats. It is better to make all possible changes several months ahead of time.  If the  older child is over 10 or 12 months and isn't yet weaned, it will be easier for him to do it now and take pride in managing a cup. Otherwise, he'll feel displaced when he sees the new baby being breast - or bottle fed. If his room is to be given over the baby, move him to his new room several months ahead, so that he feels that he is graduating because he is a big boy, not because the baby is pushing him out of his own place.
How a child gets along while his mother is in the hospital makes a big difference in his feelings toward her and the baby when they come home. Most important is who takes care of him.

When the mother brings the baby home

  • It's usually a hectic moment when the mother comes back from the hospital. She is tired and preoccupied. The father scurries about, being helpful. If the older child is there, he stands around feeling troubled and left out. So this is the new baby!
  • If it's likely to happen this way, it may be better for the child to be away on an excursion if this  can be arranged. Later, his mother can hug him and talk to him and give  her undivided attention. Let him bring up the subject of the baby when he is ready to.
  • It's tactful to play down the new baby in the early weeks. Treat her casually. Don't act too excited about her. Don't gloat over her. Don't talk a lot about her. As far as is convenient, take care of her while the older one is not around. Many young children feel the  greatest jealousy when they see the mother feeding the baby especially at the breast. 
  • Other people play a part in jealousy, too. When the father comes home from work, he should supress the impulse to ask the child, "How's the baby today?". Better to act as if he has forgotten there is a baby, sit down, and pass the time of day. 

Helping the child to feel more grown up at this time

Parents can help the child more by appealing, most of the time, to the side of him that wants to grow up. They can remind him of how big, strong, smart, or skillful he is. And from time  to time the parent can refer to some aspect of the baby's helpnessness in a tone of pity.

Turning rivalry into helpfulness

The parents can suggest the older baby how he can help them at times when it wouldn't occur to him,  and show their real appreciation of his efforts. 

In such ways the parents can help a child to actually transform resentful feelings into cooperativeness and genuine altruism.

Text source: Dr. Spock's Baby and Child Care -Beanjamin Spock and Michael Rothenberg