Mummy goes to hospital for a few hours, for a day, or a week
or maybe longer, and comes back with a new baby. Stories
abound about older children who resent the new baby and how
mothers do everything in their power to prevent the 'ex' baby
from feeling jealousy and resentment. 'They' say that all
children feel jealous of the new arrival and even when a
mother declares that she has seen no sign of envy 'they'
claim darkly that it will manifest itself sooner or later.
How do we prevent resentment, and do we really have to search
for it when the older child obviously loves the newcomer and
takes his presence for granted? There are a few common sense
rules of dos and don'ts, yet not everyone keeps to them, and
their children are perfectly at peace with the situation.
Firstly, there is the older child's personal furniture. His
crib, his high chair and his stroller are HIS domain. If you
are going to put the baby into one of these in the near
future, make quite sure that the older child has forgotten
about them. If he is completely acclimatized to the new bed
and perhaps the new location (not in parents' bedroom any
more), then by the time the new baby is out of the cradle,
enough time has elapsed and the old crib will not be HIS any
Secondly, try to prevent the new baby taking up all your
attention. Till now, the 'old' baby has been the center of
attraction, even if he is the youngest in a very large
family, or perhaps even more so, he was their pet to whom
they taught tricks: he was the prince. Now this little
upstart has come to take what was his. It is perfectly easy
to feed a baby without the older child even noticing. This is
the time to read with the other child, or play games with
him. The same applies to visitors. One woman who was out for
the first time, wheeling her newborn and eighteen month old,
met several friends, each of whom cooed over the older child
after a brief glance at the newcomer. The woman had hung a
prominent sign over the new baby's head, proclaiming "I
really do not care whether you look at me or not, nor will I
even notice, whereas my older brother does care a great deal.
Please talk to him." As far as I know, some other women
followed this great idea.
Much depends on the age of the ex-baby. When babies are close-
born, it is very often the two-year-old who evinces signs of
jealousy. He may be told that he is a big boy, too big toň
when indeed he is also just a baby. It is wiser for Mother
just to tell herself that she has three babies, than to try
to make the 'oldest' grow up before his time.
While writing this, I can hear one of my daughters
criticizing me sharply for hypocrisy, claiming that I did not
follow all these tips when I was a young woman with many
close-born children. That may be so; we are all human. But
being older now, with the benefit of hindsight, it may be
worth passing these tips on to younger inexperienced mothers.
Incidentally, children are one's worst critics, as perhaps
parents are towards their children. Parents and children are
one entity, and we want that entity to be perfect. Obviously
one cannot generalize; many parents are blind to their
children's failings, and some children idolize one of their
parents and are oblivious of any of their faults.
Jealousy finds expression in different ways, depending on the
age and nature of the child. If there has not been a baby in
the house for four years, the child might welcome the
newcomer wholeheartedly. Strangely, it is often the child
before the ex-baby who gives a cause for concern. If Mother
makes bathing a joint venture, "Would you fetch the baby's
fresh clothes, please," "Could you feel if the water is the
right temperature" (she should check it first,
surreptitiously), "Will you dry his little foot, very very
gently," it will be a help.
Let the older child choose what he or she will wear that day,
and then choose the baby's outfit. Once again, there will be
times when you are in a hurry, but this is a general
guideine. If, when you see the four-year-old almost squeezing
the life out of the baby, you scream, "Leave that baby
ALONE," you are showing her that bad behavior will get her
all the attention she so craves, even if it is negative.
Pick up the baby and show the child how soft and fragile the
child is, and how she can sit on the floor and hold him ever
so gently. Older siblings can joyfully proclaim to the child
who has been the youngest for so long, "Now you won't be the
last to get challa on Shabbos. You will always get
Kiddush wine before the new baby; you won't be last any
Personally, I feel that the more one expects jealousy, the
more likely it is to appear, but this is a personal opinion
and most experts will disagree with me. There are true
anecdotes of the things children say about the newcomer, yet
they do not have to be expressions of deep-seated envy. When
a well-meaning visitor asks, "Can I have your baby?" the
answer may well be, "Yes, take him, and don't forget all his
clothes and diapers." A child might ask his mother, "When are
you giving him back?" When the reply is, "He is ours to stay
and we all love him, just like we all love you sooo much,"
with a great hug to show how much, the child will be quite
If as mentioned above, the child before the previous youngest
shows real signs of jealousy, it is a good idea to give her
responsibility. If the baby starts crying and you use a
pacifier, let this older child run to pop it in his mouth.
Resist the impulse to run after the girl to make sure she is
not harming the child. Instead, thank her, and ask her to
rock the baby for a few minutes till you have time to attend
to him. Show her that you trust her.
Children differ in the amount of sleep they need, or the
amount of food which satisfies them. Furthermore, their need
for attention varies considerably. If you notice an older
child regressing, either by wetting the bed or even wetting
by day if they have been perfectly reliable before: or if the
child starts talking in a babyish voice, or demanding a
bottle when he had already given it up completely —
a signal that he needs far more attention.
Your time is limited, and you may feel impatient with a child
of six who behaves this way. Nevertheless, it is worth
spending more time at the moment with this particular child
than with any other member of the family: talking, playing
games and taking him out with you. In the end, this child may
have a particularly difficult nature, and you will not always
succeed, but extra love and attention is always a worthwhile
The more children feel loved, wanted, secure and belonging to
their family unit, the less likely there are to be problems
of jealousy when you are blessed with a gift of a new