Dear Mr. Dad: My husband and I have two sons. Our oldest is 4 and the youngest is 3 months old. The problem is that the older one is crazy jealous of the baby. We bought a bunch of books on how to prepare a child to be a big brother and everything seemed to be OK -- until about two weeks after the baby arrived. Now, our oldest is angry all the time, constantly says he hates his brother, and my husband and I are worried that he might do something to hurt the baby. What should we do?
A: You have every reason to be worried -- after all, you have a baby to protect. But as unpleasant as it is, your older son's behavior is normal. Whenever anything changes in a young child's life, his or her biggest question is, "How will this affect ME?" In his developing mind, life was good until that whiny little brat showed up. The stars and the moon revolved around him and you and Daddy were at his beck and call. Then, all of a sudden, everyone's paying attention to that big blob that sleeps, cries, fills diapers, cries some more, and can't even play. Not surprisingly, big brother is feeling displaced, ignored and unloved. Can you blame him?
He's wrong, of course. You still love him just as much as before. But to him, all the available evidence supports his worst fears. Right now, the only way to help him get over his jealousy is to convince him otherwise. Here's how:
1. You and your husband need to tell your son -- multiple times a day -- that you love him and always will. Unfortunately, words won't be enough. You have to prove your love. Here's a simple demonstration that worked well when my oldest daughter became a big sister and told me that she was afraid that if I loved the baby I couldn't love her as much.
Light a candle and ask your son to imagine that the flame is your love for him. Then, take a second candle and light it with the flame from the first one. The second candle will burn brightly and the first won't be dimmed in any way. That's the way it is with love.
2. Keep a stash of small presents that you can dig into during those times when people bring gifts for the new baby but thoughtlessly exclude the big brother. These presents shouldn't be big, just something to remind him that you think he's special too.
3. Scroll through your phone or make a special book of pics of your oldest when he was a baby. Make a point to talk about all the great presents he got when he was tiny.
4. Talk up all the advantages of being a big brother. For example, babies are too little to play with big-boy toys, or eat food (like popsicles) that big kids do.
5. Help build the relationship between the siblings by teaching big bro to gently interact with little bro. If he wants to help you care for the baby, give him a chance. And be sure to praise loving, gentle behavior whenever you see it. However, never, ever leave him alone in the room with the baby.
Finally, make sure that both you and your husband spend some one-on-one time with your older boy, doing all the things you used to do in the before times -- plus some new ones. Yes, he's a big brother now, but he's also still a child who needs your time, presence, and attention as much as (and maybe more than) ever.
(Read Armin Brott's blog at www.DadSoup.com, follow him on Twitter, @mrdad, or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
(c)2020 Armin Brott
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.