Charlotte, 24, lives in Plymouth with her husband Michael, 25, an Army corporal and sons Cory, 2 ½ and Connor, 4 ½ months.
‘I’ve always dreamed of having two boys playing happily side by side. Nothing could be further from the truth,’ says Charlotte.
‘Ever since I had Connor, Cory has been bitterly jealous. I can’t leave them alone in the room as Cory’s rough with him – I have even caught him slapping the baby a few times. Cory’s always been clingy, probably because we’ve moved around a lot as my husband Michael is in the Army. Now he hates having to share my attention and is clingier than ever.
‘After I had the baby, my in-laws came to look after Cory and made a real fuss of him. The night they left, our problems started. Although he’s always been a good sleeper, he refused to settle. With the new baby in bed with me, Cory would come in at 2am and try to climb in with us. That and night feeds left me exhausted.
‘Now Cory goes to nursery for two-and-a-half hours a day, four days a week. At first staff had to pull him off me and I could hear him wailing as I left. When he’s at home, he’s more demanding than ever. If I’m busy with the baby, Cory jumps up and down in temper, empties cupboards out or runs close to Connor.
‘I’ve tried to make Cory feel involved starting with rubbing my bump while I was pregnant – but it hasn’t worked. The other day, Connor rolled over for the first time. “Clever boy!” I said, but Cory ran over, threw his arms around me and demanded “cuddles”. I feel guilty that I’m not giving my baby the attention he needs. I feel torn and I’m drained caring for my baby and coping with Cory’s outbursts.
‘All I want is for my boys to get on. These should be the happiest days of my life but I’m too stressed and tired to enjoy them.
Our expert says
Sharon Charlton-Thomson is a former nanny who set up the Parent Coaching Company in Bath, Somerset, two years ago. Trained in family therapy and psychotherapy, she helps parents solve their children’s emotional and behavioural problems.
‘Sibling rivalry is one of the most common problems I deal with. Mums feel guilty and torn between their young children and even blame themselves for the jealousy.
‘Charlotte made every effort to get Cory ready for the new baby. But nothing can really prepare a toddler for another little stranger coming along and capturing everyone’s heart and attention.
‘The first thing I tell mums is to put yourself in your toddler’s shoes and see the world through his eyes. Mummy was always the centre of his life, his heroine, then along comes another baby and whisks away all her attention. No wonder he’s left angry and jealous. In Cory’s case, the problem is amplified because his dada is away so much.
‘The good news is that by altering your attitude towards your jealous toddler, you really can make a change for you both.
Follow this action plan to restore peace and harmony:
Think positive. Forget being irritated by the ‘terrible twos’, be impressed by the ‘terrific twos’, says Sharon. Cory is being incredibly creative in his attention-seeking tactics. You’ve got to admire how clever and resourceful he’s being.
Loving you. Make a list of all the things you love about your boy. His giggle, baking cakes together, reading stories or walks in the park. When the going gets tough, it’ll help keep you upbeat and remind you of ways to spend more precious time together.
Take a step back. If Cory goes towards the baby, Charlotte jumps in, saying: ‘No! Don’t!’ This intensifies his jealousy and rivalry. If you’re overprotective, your toddler hears the message that the baby is more important. Take a step back, put the baby where you can clearly see him, and allow Cory to approach is little brother without butting in. press pause, and force yourself to be quiet.
Baby him (a little bit!) You think that saying: ‘You’re my big boy’ is praise and will make him feel good. But he doesn’t want to be big, he wants to be the baby. Instead praise him in other ways like: ‘You’re being really helpful, sweetheart.’
Mummy’s helper. Cory wants one-to-one special time with his mummy. But when the baby is asleep, Charlotte rushes around doing chores. Make Cory feel important by saying: ‘Mummy needs your help.’ Get him to clear up his toys or help set the table. That gives him the message he needs to hear: ‘Mummy loves and needs me.’
Give him choice. Let Cory choose what you do in special ‘me and Mummy’ time. Limit it to three options – maybe playing with the train set, painting a picture or reading a story – so he doesn’t get confused.
No whingeing and no crying. Don’t get embarrassed if Cory throws a tantrum at the nursery gates. Turn up at the last minute, so there’s less time for him to kick off. Have a toy ready to distract him and don’t worry about other mum’s looking at you. It’s only sympathy – they’ve been there.
Stick(er) to it. Use a sticker chart to reward good behaviour. After he’s got three stars, treat with an outing or a small toy. It’ll boost his self-esteem and make him feel he has something the baby doesn’t.
Contact the Parent Coaching Company on 0845 644 6514 or visit www.parentcoaching.co.uk.
Charlotte followed the plan for three weeks and here’s how she and Cory got on.
‘One evening, Connor was crying and Cory comforted him, saying: “It’s okay”, gently putting the dummy back in his mouth. A normal scene for other families but an incredible transformation for mine. It made me realise how much Cory and I have changed since following Sharon’s advice. From either competing with him or shoving him, Cory is now interacting with Connor.
‘Sharon’s tip to rename the “terrible twos” the “terrific twos” changed the way I looked at how Cory was and made me feel more positive. ‘Before, I’d started to think that jealousy was part of Cory’s nature. But the advice to get inside his head helped me understand his feelings. Now I can see what a loving and bright toddler I have.
‘Watching discreetly, I’ve trusted Cory to be “alone” with the baby. Instead of smacking him, he’s tickled him. And the more loving I am towards him, the more loving he is towards Connor.
‘The suggestion to ask him to help around the house was spot-on as Cory loves to feel useful. At nursery, the staff have also noticed a big change in him. He’s far calmer and more content.
‘Now I’m enjoying my sons, and home is calm and happy instead of frazzled. Thank you!’