little kids & BIG CHANGES: how much help does an older sibling need when a new baby comes along?

by | Jan 16, 2015 | Babies, January, Mailbag, Parenting, Parenting With Authority | 16 comments

What do you do when you want to blog, but you ALSO really, really want to take a bath and hit the sack? Why, fish something out of the mailbag of course. It’s already written and at least one person in the universe is interested in the answer.

Today’s question is from reader Sarah . . .

Hi Kendra!
I could really use your advice. I read your blog religiously and look at your parenting advice and experience as highly as I would my mom’s. However I’ve never heard you address this issue and it is killing me.
I had a daughter 2 months ago, when my son was 23 months old. My son is the sweetest, most adventurous, spirited, independent, mama’s boys boy around. Obviously I’m crazy about him. But ever since my daughter was born he is clearly struggling. He gets very overwhelmed easily. Hits angrily constantly and just has a very different spirit about him. We still have lots of special alone time. I have to get this hitting and misbehaving under control.
Any thoughts/advice on discipline and helping him!
Thank you!
Prayers for you and your beautiful family

Dear Sarah,

Thanks for your kind words and congratulations on your new baby!

As to your question, as always I can only answer based on my own particular experience with my own particular kids, BUT . . .

I would caution you against attributing your son’s behavioral changes to becoming a big brother. He’s two. He’s just BARELY two, he’s MOSTLY one. Little dude was always going to find something to be upset about. It just so happens that there’s also a new baby in the house.

Personally, I would be really careful to not suggest to him that he’s upset about the baby or about less time with you. I’d subtly but often reinforce how lucky he is to have a new sister, and I’d make sure to never associate in his mind any of his outbursts and general two year old behavior with his sister.

His behavior is his behavior, and it just gets addressed as such. I’m careful to not say things like, “I know you are tired but you can’t . . .” The same thing applies to “hungry” or “sick” or “jealous” or whatever, because I don’t want to give my kids excuses. We’re all sometimes tired and sick and whatever, (and *I* do take that into account myself when I’m dealing with their behaviors) but it’s still not okay to behave badly. We still all have to try to control ourselves. So I try not to give them excuses for their behavior. I just address the behavior.

Most importantly, I would just reassure YOU that you have given your son a great gift in giving him a sibling. Yes. Babies change things, but it’s for the better. Your son will have an extra person to love him and pay attention to him HIS WHOLE LIFE. He’ll learn to share and to compromise and to entertain himself. He’ll learn to run and get a diaper for you. He’ll try to sing to the baby to comfort her in the car. He’ll feel useful and helpful. It’s all, all good stuff. There are no negatives for him in this situation. You love him and are taking the very best care of him. It is good!

Of course that’s not to say his behavior doesn’t need to be addressed and dealt with. It does. You’re already doing the most important stuff, like spending time with him and loving him. Other than that, I don’t think it requires special parenting techniques. It hasn’t in our house. Just the same old being the boss of a one year old and always meaning what I say kind of stuff.

Here are the links to some of those other posts.

This is how we prepare kids before the new baby is born:


And how we deal with discipline, in general:
And how we deal with toddlers, specifically:

Everything in parenting is a season, this too shall pass. Congratulations on your lovely little family. I hope you’re getting some naps. I need naps.


Disclaimer: I am not a theologian, nor am I an official spokesperson for the Catholic Church. (You’re thinking of this guy.) If you read anything on this blog that is contrary to Church teaching, please consider it my error (and let me know!). I’m not a doctor or a child psychologist or an expert on anything in particular. I’m just one person with a lot of experience parenting little kids and a desire to share my joy in marriage, mothering, and my faith.

If you’ve got a question, please send it along to catholicallyear @ gmail . com . Please let me know if you prefer that I change your name if I use your question on the blog.


  1. me

    I agree with Kendra that this is probably more "terrible twos" than new sibling. A kid who is two has a lot more mobility and interests than a one-year old, but he might not have the control or vocabulary to express himself yet. Be patient and consistent at this frustrating time – it'll help him learn the rules and be a comfort to him ( believe it or not). My boys tended to have terrible twos a little earlier – 18 months -2 years. What really helped was when their verbal skills caught up to their other skills. Then a lot of the anger/frustration could then be expressed specifically (I'm hungry – I want to play – I'm tired) instead of with hitting and screaming. Also, give him plenty of time to play physically if you can – if you've been stuck inside during the winter or because of the new baby, he might not be burning up enough of that little boy energy. (I fell into that trap last year with my 3 year old – he got into a lot more trouble during our snowy winter when I was on modified bed rest and we couldn't do much.) make sure he has some creative and fun outlets for his physical energy and it might help reduce his acting out.
    Good luck with your little ones!

  2. Rita Buettner

    I'd recommend reading Siblings Without Rivalry, which helped us so much as we made the transition to big brotherhood! I agree with you, Kendra, that you don't want to give your child an excuse, but I also think it can be that your child's whole world has been turned upside-down and he is confused. We tried to carve out 10-15 minutes a day big brother could count on to have mama to himself. My mother (who only raised 6) always told me if both children are crying, pick up the big brother, who will remember. The baby can almost always wait a minute. Help the big brother and then ask him to help you help the baby. Congratulations and good luck!

  3. Mia Jude

    My son was 23 months old when my daughter was born also and terrible twos hit right on time.. Seriously like a lights switch on his second birthday, while opening gifts at his party. I was shocked that he became angry, whiny, and extremely overwhelmed during presents. He had never acted that way before, always a happy kid. I agree I don't think his behavior had anything to do with new baby sister. He just had a hard time communicating needs to us which left him throwing tantrums. He also went through a season of pushing other kids and taking things from others around 2 and a half. I got very discouraged daily. Some days he made me cry because I didn't know what happened to my happy go lucky kid! I was nervous I wasn't disciplining right, that maybe we were making him worse. But with all that said we remained consistent. Everyone was scaring me saying things like "if you think two is bad.. Three is even worse!" But I have to say (knock on wood) my son turned three this past fall and what a breath of fresh air! Three has been SO much easier us than two. He can communicate with us, he listens (most of the time) and he has not had to do time outs on a daily basis. We slapped his hands a lot and spanked his bottom for more serious bad behavior while he was two and we rarely have to spank him now! My 15 month old daughter is becoming the difficult one! Her terrible twos are starting very early! Just in time for baby brother to be born in a couple months! Should be fun! Honestly we can't wait. She loves her older brother and I'm sure she will warm up quick to baby. Good luck Sarah! As Kendra said, this too shall pass. Congrats on the new baby!

  4. Amelia Bentrup

    I agree that it's just a 2-yo thing and not a new sibling thing. I know this, because all my kids have hit the "terrible twos" around that age, and none of them had a younger sibling (my closest spacing is 32 months) at the time.

  5. Amanda

    I would totally agree. Obviously a 1 or 2 year old is having something major happen, but I swear to a them something new for dinner is TOO MUCH some days 😉 We try to give them words, and end up giving them ideas. If there is one thing I hate and think all people should avoid, it's books which suggest having a new baby will be/is so rough and might make the big sibling act terribly. Have you seen a baby? They're awesome. Even a 2 year old can't miss that, if you point it out. And now they get to be bigger than someone, and they love that. Plus, all mine are 17-24 months apart and I would give each kids 2 months before they forget there ever wasn't a baby. Don't ignore them for the baby, let them help. tell them how awesome babies and being a big sibling is. And take a nap.

    I'm sorry. You wrote a post and I might have repeated the whole thing.

    I do want to just say, also, that I think having two little ones was the hardest. I have four 6 and under now and even though they're all little, having no one who could speak sentences was massively more emotionally taxing. I have high hopes for the promise that 10 will be amazing, but also know it will get easier sooner than that, even with more babies.

  6. Tia

    My oldest was 23 months when my younger one was born. While his behavior didn't get worse immediately after the birth, he definitely has some jealousy towards the younger one, manifest in very specific types of aggression and petulance that only flare up in response to the baby. I was pretty flummoxed by this as an only child, because I thought I was giving him basically the greatest gift ever in a close-in-age-sibling, and thought that if we framed it as all plus, he would think the same. So far, no dice. He sort of likes his sibling but also gets annoyed very frequently and is clearly jealous of even the pettiest things. We've dealt with it by disciplining him for bad behavior no matter what, sometimes punctuated by "Samson's your friend!" or "Samson's your little baby!" to try to impress upon him that he's lucky to have a sibling, even when that sibling crawls over all-Godzilla style and destroys his magna-tile towers. Everything has turned into "it's mine?" or "that's mine!" I'm at the end of my rope and not sure how to put the kibosh on it. I mean, on some level it's a valid question…for some things. But no, the toaster, the cat and the excavator are not yours. And we don't want to encourage the "mine, yours" mentality anyways. Do you have any tips on how to stop this obsession with ownership? We're generally a very share-y family.

    • Kendra

      I think if it were me, I would just try to work on one thing at a time. If I wanted to change the behavior of saying "mine," I would set the age-appropriate behavioral expectations ahead of time: We don't say "mine" in this family. Our things belong to the Tierney Family. And reasonable consequences: If you say "mine" about a thing, you don't get to use that thing anymore, and you sit in a timeout. And then, I'd just be really, really consistent about it, for at least 2-3 weeks, then assess if we seemed to be making any progress. That's what I would do.

    • Tia

      Thanks, that makes sense. Because I'm kind of an idiot, I tried this today, but then I got tripped up when we were at a restaurant and they put 3 identical cups on the table and the oldest said "That's mine?" and I basically got totally tongue tied because wait should this be an exception to the general rule of "we don't say mine"? Or can kids get this kind of distinction?

    • Kendra

      Tia, I just would try not to overthink it too much. If he's using the word mine appropriately, to ask a question, and not in an inappropriate shriek-y way, I'd just answer his question and move on. You're not really trying to modify his vocabulary, just his behavior.

  7. Lindsay Partridge

    Great post, Kendra! Thank you! Even 4 babies deep into motherhood, I still struggle with the feeling that my youngest is 'losing' something when a new baby comes along…it's great to be reminded of all that they are gaining and some of the biggest reasons why we are even having all these babies to begin with.

  8. Elisa | blissfulE

    Wonderful answer! And thanks for the caution not to give them excuses. I tend to say things like, "I know you're tired (hungry, etc) but that doesn't mean you can yell (kick, etc)." Is that ok, do you think?

    • Kendra

      No, you're right Elisa. What you're saying is just a different way of addressing the same issue. That's not giving them a free pass. I should have said I avoid responding to my kid having kicked his brother by saying, "I know you're tired" period. The conversation just needs to continue after that to include the "you still can't kick your brother" part. 🙂

  9. Kristin Sanders

    Wow totally commented on the wrong page!!…this was for the new baby book recs 🙂

  10. Emilee Land

    I've been thinking about this a lot lately. I'm pregnant now and my daughter will be 21 months when the baby gets here. I'm so worried about what the transition period will be like for all of us. She is 15 months now and I feel like there is no way to prepare her. Do you have any tips? Thanks!

    • Kendra

      Yes, Emilee, I do! That post I linked to at the end, the "Your Baby Method", that's how we do it. It's worked really well for us.

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Hi! I’m Kendra.

For twenty years now, I’ve been using food, prayer, and conversation based around the liturgical calendar to share the lives of the saints and the beautiful truths and traditions of our Catholic faith. My own ten children, our friends and neighbors, and people just like you have been on this journey with me.

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