Before our baby was born last month, our three-year-old daughter, April, was thrilled about having a new brother or sister. Now, however, she shows signs of jealousy, sucking her thumb sullenly when I nurse the baby and getting very loud and silly when friends drop by. Please suggest some ways I can ease her through this period of adjustment.
Your daughter is revealing a textbook reaction to the invasion that has occurred in her private kingdom. It is typical for such a preschooler to throw temper tantrums, wet the bed, suck her thumb, mess her pants, hold tightly to Mama, talk "baby talk," etc. Since the baby gets all the attention by being helpless, the older child will often try to "out-baby the baby"--behaving in immature ways from an earlier stage of development. That pattern seems to be occurring with your little girl.
Here's what I would suggest:
1. Bring her feelings out in the open and help her verbalize them. When she is acting silly in front of adults, take her in your arms and say, "What's the matter, April? Do you need some attention today?" Gradually, a child can be taught to use similar words when she feels excluded or rejected. "I need some attention, Dad. Will you play with me?" By verbalizing her feelings, you also help her understand herself better.
2. Don't let infantile behavior succeed. If she cries when the baby-sitter arrives, leave her anyway. A temper tantrum can be greeted by firmness. However, reveal little anger and displeasure, remembering that the entire episode is motivated by a threat to your love.
3. Meet her needs in ways that grant status to her for being older. Take her to the park, making it clear that the baby is too little to go; talk "up" to her about the things she can do that the baby can't--she can use the bathroom instead of her pants, for example. Let her help take care of the baby so she will feel she is part of the family process.
Beyond these corrective steps, give your daughter some time to adjust to her new situation. Even though it stresses her somewhat today, she should profit from the realization that she does not sit at the center of the universe.