Sibling Aggression

My daughter (27-months-old) is very aggressive toward her brother (nine-months-old), who is very active and almost walking already. Since he started crawling and getting into the toys at five-months-old, she has been hitting, pushing his head, pulling his hair, doing anything to make him cry. I just don’t know how to deal with it anymore. I know she is adjusting to his presence, but it’s been nearly five months of this. I fear I am making it worse by creating a bully and victim mentality. But I don’t want to leave my son there to cry while trying to figure out how to get through to my daughter—and I have started yelling, which makes all of us feel worse. Please help!

Congratulations on the expansion of your family. It can be a difficult adjustment for all your family members, as you have experienced. It sounds as though your daughter has some pretty strong feelings regarding her new baby brother. Although most siblings adjust to the new baby within the first three months, many children can take longer. It may take your child a good year or two to process this change. Sibling conflict then flares up again around the baby’s first birthday when he is up and walking and getting into the siblings’ things, and then continues for the rest of their lives. As anyone who grew up in a family with more than one child can attest to, sibling conflict is a normal part of family life. As parents, you are probably redirecting attention, using positive phrases, engaging in one-on-one time, discussing feelings, and, of course, supervision is essential. (Until the older child is around seven- or eight-years-old, avoid leaving them alone together.) If your daughter is moving in to hit the baby, put your attention on him and pick him up to safety. Don’t yell or address your daughter. This would be giving her negative attention. Although yelling at your daughter is not the optimum way to handle things, don’t berate yourself for the yelling. Your intentions of wanting harmonious family relations are honorable. Try to curb the yelling—and I know it’s hard—because it provides negative attention, and children will take negative or positive attention. Negative attention is better than none. Focus on one-on-one time with her and encourage and notice every little positive thing she does. It will pay off eventually in more sibling harmony down the road. The more children are free to express their negative feelings about life with brothers and sisters, the more they can share the positive feelings, too. Giving her paper and markers to draw her feelings can help. Also, give her a doll to express her feelings about the new baby. Accept all responses without judgment. Remember that there is no limit on feelings, but only on behavior. If she draws a paper full of black and red marks, it may seem scary to you, but she is getting her feelings out in a way that doesn’t hurt anybody or anything. Keep acknowledging her feelings by saying, “I see that you are feeling angry that the baby is getting more of Mommy’s time. It’s okay to feel angry. We can’t push or hit baby. Here, let’s draw a picture of our angries instead.” Repetition is essential. I realize that it’s frustrating for you to constantly practice positive parenting and see not much change. You will soon see a blossoming relationship between the siblings. It will all be worth it in the long-term!