Administrator Amanda Turner, 30, lives in Wakefield with husband Gary, 31, and daughters Katie, 1, and Emily, 3.
Emily is very jealous of her younger sister Katie, and mum Amanda is desperate to stop the squabbles.
‘When Katie was born Emily was wonderful with her and accepted her as a sister straight away. But now Katie has a personality of her own, Emily wants to play with everything that Katie has but will not let Katie touch a single thing of hers.
‘Emily sometimes reverts back to acting like a baby, even wanting to use the changing mat to have her nappy changed. She also wants more attention and hugs – it’s as if she feels she’s being left out.
‘There are many times when Emily will just push Katie for no reason, or prevent her from doing something just because she can. I work five days a week and find it exhausting.
‘At home, if I’m doing anything with Katie, Emily becomes really cross.
She always wants to get involved. If I ask Katie, “Where’s your teddy bear?” Emily answers straight away, not giving Katie a chance. I’m worried that Katie is never going to learn for herself if Emily keeps diving in with all the answers.
‘Family trips out on a Saturday are hard, too. By the end my husband and I are shattered, but we do try to take them for days out. We went to a play centre recently and they had a lovely time. But when it was time to go, Emily started screaming and everyone stared – it was so embarrassing.
‘If I do reward Emily when she behaves well, say with a biscuit, she goes over to Katie and waves it in front of her face saying, “I have this, but you don’t have anything good like this.
‘I’d like to manage the time that I have with the two of them more constructively and do something we could all enjoy without squabbling.
I also want Emily to learn I have to spend time with Katie. She’s convinced she gets less attention, but obviously Katie is younger and needs more help. Emily is just being demanding. Help me cope!’
Our expert says…
Lorrine Marer, 52, is a child behavioural specialist and is also an expert on sibling rivalry. She has appeared on Five’s TV series Families Behaving Badly, and she has two children.
‘Parents cannot give children equal attention all of the time. If a younger baby needs her nappy changed, mum’s attention is taken away from the other child. By trying to be totally fair and equal, Amanda is putting herself under terrible pressure.
‘Amanda needn’t worry about Katie learning new things, because she naturally learns from everything going on around her. And a younger child always picks up things from her sibling.
‘Amanda needs to learn to organise and pace herself so that she is less exhausted, giving her more energy to handle Emily and to let her know clearly who is the parent.
1. Don’t bother with long explanations
Try not to reason with Emily or explain why you are trying to give time to Katie. It’s pointless saying things like, ‘Katie needs help because she is only little,’ as Emily won’t respond – she’s not interested in being the big sister at the moment.
2. Make some simple rules
Do a picture of Emily snatching something, and stick it on a big piece of paper with a sad face next to it. Then, draw a picture of the two sisters playing together (or take a photograph) and draw a happy face next to it. Say to Emily, ‘Now, these are the rules.’ If she wants Katie to have rules too, then say, ‘If the baby snatches, Mummy will pull a sad face.’ Rules could also include no pushing and no teasing. As you and Emily discuss her behaviour, she will think about her actions and what is and isn’t acceptable.
3. Don’t make a fuss if she hits out at the baby
Older siblings often hit their younger brothers or sisters because they get an instant reaction from mum. It rewards them – even if mum gives a negative reaction. So if Emily pushes or hits Katie, don’t make a fuss. Just rub the place Katie was hit and say, ‘There, that’s better.’ There should be no value in Emily hurting her little sister.
4. Find something positive
Say three positive things to Emily every day that show how well she is doing, making sure those comments are aimed exclusively at her. And when the girls are playing happily together, say things like, ‘You two are playing so nicely.’ Keep everything positive, short and sweet. So don’t say to Emily, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if you shared your toys with Katie, because she doesn’t mind sharing with you,’ and then lecture her on sharing.
5. Turn games into praise
When Emily lays down on the changing mat, immediately find something positive to say. ‘Would you pass me the cream/nappy bag?’ followed by a big ‘Thank you for being so helpful.’ As soon as she sits up, praise her. ‘Now, look at you sitting up so beautifully.’ She’ll soon realise that lying on the mat does not get praise.
6. Don’t call her the big girl
Never say, ‘Oh, you are such a big girl.’ At this moment, Emily doesn’t want to be a big girl. She wants to be a baby because she sees this is where she will get the most attention from you.
7. Make special time for her
If Katie goes to bed before Emily, spend some time together. Play a game, do a jigsaw or read together. Never connect this special time with her sister. Don’t say, ‘Look how beautifully you do this jigsaw – why can’t you be like this with Katie?’
8. Do less and enjoy it more
Long days out can be tiring for children, and stressful and exhausting for working mums. Children don’t need to be entertained outside the home all the time. Instead, get your husband to look after Katie while you do something special with Emily. Take her outside to do some gardening, or do some baking together, or even just go to her bedroom and fold clothes and sort out the drawers together, chatting as you go along. You won’t be exhausted – and she’ll just love being the centre of your attention.
9. Prepare for success
If you are going somewhere that you know could be a problem for Emily, like the play centre where she screamed, prepare beforehand so that she understands exactly what will happen if she misbehaves. Ask her these questions, slowly and clearly, so that she learns to take responsibility for her actions. Say, ‘Do you remember the play centre where there was lots of shouting when I asked you to leave?’ When she says ‘Yes’, reply ‘What’s going to happen if you shout again?’ If she says, ‘I don’t know,’ say, ‘I’m going to help you. If you shout while we’re there, it means we cannot go again.’ If she does throw a fit when you are there, say, ‘What did we talk about?’ and remind her about what you discussed earlier. But if she continues to scream, just pick her up and walk out, saying nothing.
10. Don’t worry about what other people think
Don’t worry about people staring at you – this is your child and it’s your job to put rules and boundaries into place. If someone is looking, the chances are all they are thinking is, ‘Oh dear, I remember that stage.’ Don’t waste energy worrying about other people – you need all the energy you can get.
The change in Emily’s behaviour is amazing. Amanda says: ‘Thanks to Lorrine we’ve made real changes and had some great rewards. The best piece of advice was making special time for Emily. We’ve been locking ourselves away in her room every weekend for an hour of games, which I’ve enjoyed as much as she has. Her behaviour has really improved, she listens more and she seems so much happier and calmer.
‘If Emily hurts Katie, we’ve followed Lorrine’s advice and said, “You’ll be okay, Katie,” and the response is fantastic. There are no tears, shouting or accusations, as it hasn’t been made into a big deal in the first place.
‘Finding something positive to praise Emily for has been so rewarding, too. I sit down with the girls to draw and say, “You’ve done a lovely picture,” or “Well done for handing over that pen,” and instead of squabbling they’ve been happily sitting together.
‘I’ve realised that I focused on their bad behaviour before and that simply showed the girls that to get some attention you have to be naughty. Now, we concentrate on the positive and the girls are so much happier together as a result. Emily has really flourished.
‘Lorrine’s advice has been invaluable – and with every week that we follow her tips, we see another change for the better. I’m enjoying Emily so much more now.’
My First Baby Annabell, Zapf Creation, £14.99 (12m+)
The perfect way to prepare a toddler for a new arrival. She can copy what you do, too. Visit www.mailorderexpress.com.
Goldilocks And The Three Bears Puppets, Letterbox, £8.99 (3y+)
Ideal for allowing your child express herself. Make them big brother, big sister and baby bear and discuss how the older sister feels. Visit www.letterbox.co.uk.
Charades, For Kids, Paul Lamond, £8.99 (4y+)Charades is a good way to get your children to play together as it allows your older child to shine, and your younger one to join in. To order this and other fun games visit www.mailorderexpress.com.
Things to read
Owl Babies by Martin Waddell (Walker Books, £5.99) 18m+
Snuggle up together and read this feel good book about little owl brothers Percy and Bill, and their sister Sarah. They cuddle up together and share a branch while their mum is away. A touching read about what it means to have siblings. Visit www.amazon.co.uk
Daisy And The Beastie by Jane Simmons, (Orchard Books, £10.99 in hardback) 2y+
Daisy the duck is back, and now she has her little brother Pip in tow. The story follows the two siblings as they hunt for a scary Beastie and it shows just how much fun you can have with your younger brother or sister. Visit www.amazon.co.uk
Sophie And The New Baby by Catherine and Laurence Anholt (Orchard Books, £4.99) 3y+. A lovely book explaining the excitement of a new baby but the changes and the jealousy of realising that you have to share. Visit www.amazon.co.uk