Home About Dr Gayle Counseling Services Speaking Services Online Seminars Articles Press Room Books Contact

Ask Dr. Gayle

Has the New Baby Sparked Sibling Rivalry?

QUESTION: We have a three-year-old and a newborn. Our older daughter has been very loving with her sister; however, she is suddenly showing signs of insecurity. She always wants to be in her room by herself and won't let me touch any of her toys. She is at home with me all the time, except for a ballet class. Could she need friends?

ANSWER: Your daughter is expressing positive feelings toward her new sibling, while guarding her turf, too. It is natural at this age that she would protect her things and want to hang around inside the home during this period of acclimation.

Your description does not paint a picture of insecurity, but rather one of attentiveness to change. Do not worry, these are signs of healthy adjustment!

It is possible that your three-year-old would benefit from new friendships at this time. However, pushing her toward others before she has fully adapted to her new environment with the baby, or expecting her to begin sharing her toys with others, might just backfire. Take it slow. Consider inviting a little friend over for a play date, perhaps from her ballet class if she shows interest. But be aware that your anxiety may be emotionally charged, if you feel guilty about not being able to spend the kind of time with her that you did in the past.

It is likely that some part of your anxiety is an expression of your own postpartum adjustment. After all, you have lost some of the time you no doubt enjoyed spending with your daughter and may be missing the one-on-one relationship you once had. Your relationship with your first child has changed irrevocably when you had a second baby. Many mothers feel this adjustment to be more difficult than subsequent children because of the quality of undivided attention you can give one child, which is forever altered when additional members arrive on the family scene.

Your daughter's retreat to her room could be, in part, her way of dealing with the change in the one-on-one attention she used to enjoy from you. Children, too, can experience a kind of "postpartum letdown" with all that is new and different in their lives.

Be proactive in giving her ways to help you and be involved in activities with you and the new baby. Bringing you a diaper, talking and playing with the baby during a diaper change, and organizing activities that keep her in the same room with you can help, such as baking cookies. Or she can draw a picture of her new family while sitting next to you. This may assure her that she is an active participant and irreplaceable member of the new family constellation, despite the changes!

Special time with dad and one-on-one time with mom are definitely in order for your little girl. Let her know that there are periods in the day that she will get your full and undivided attention. A nighttime story, a weekend visit to the library or other activities for just the two of you will further ensure her adjustment as well as your own.

The three months following the birth of a child is termed the postpartum period for a reason. Your hormones are rearranging your body (and moods!), which can make you vulnerable to increased anxiety or even the blues. Let the dust settle, before interpreting your child's changes in a negative light.


Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

Return to Dr. Gayle Peterson's Home Page

Copyright 1996-2003.  Gayle Peterson All rights reserved.

Send Comments and Inquiries to Dr. Gayle Peterson at gp@askdrgayle.com