When asked why she felt that way, she replied:
"So that you would just sit and hold me all day, and when we went out everyone would talk to me and give me presents. No one even notices me at the shops anymore."
Our son was only about 3 months old, and our other daughter 3 years old, when this conversation took place. I had had an emergency c-section, spent a week in hospital only to return to hospital for another week after less than a week home to begin with. I was house-bound for 12 weeks unable to drive or lift anything heavier than the baby. Our daughters, being only 27 months apart, were great playmates and kept each other entertained. I also enlisted our eldest to help fix the 3 year old's lunches, get her dressed, etc during the times daddy was unable to help.
When she broke my heart with that sighed statement, I felt awful that she was feeling so left out of things, and that until that time, I had been feeling like we were doing an okay job balancing our attention among the three of them.
So, what do we do when the younger child(ren) need our help and care for everything they do, the older children are capable of fending for themselves, but still long for our care and attention? How do we make sure we don't take advantage of their ability to help while being sure we nurture them as well? Here are some tips we discovered that helped us. I hope they help you, too.
1. Spend time alone with each child. I know. Easier said than done. We really struggled with this after the birth of our son, but it's so vital, and it really goes a long way. Try to get some time once a week, or once every two weeks, with your child. It can be playing a game, going to the park, the local cafe, anything. Our oldest loves going to the coffee shop with Daddy, drinking a babychino (steamed milk topped w/chocolate) and playing a game of Life on his iPad. It takes less than an hour, but she's thriving with it.
2. Let them help with you. Don't just have them do things for you while you're dealing with the smaller kiddos. Get them involved with you cooking, folding laundry, loading the dishwasher. Whatever it is you're already doing, invite them to do it with you. Our 6 year old loves to help cook dinner. She feels to empowered, and she eats more of the healthy stuff when she cooks it! And it doesn't hurt that she has something that the littlers can't do.
3. Ask their input on the little things (and take it). Have them help you decide between pasta or stew for dinner. Apples or pears in the lunches. Let them know that you value their opinions. Also, do things with them even if they can do them for themselves sometimes. Sit with them while they get dressed, or brush their teeth. Do their hair, snuggle with them on your lap.
4. Multitask. I used to love to read to my older girls while feeding the baby. It's a great time for them to snuggle up to you, get close, and be together. If they're a bit too wiggly to sit still and read, have a basket or bag with a few special toys/books that ONLY come out when you are feeding the baby. This is particularly great if you are breastfeeding.
If after all of these, your older child is still struggling with jealousy, continue to lavish love on them unconditionally. Talk about what a big boy/girl they are, but remind them no matter how grown up they are they will always be your baby, etc. You can even pull out their old baby photos, books, or videos and talk about the funny things they did as a baby/small child.
Above all, pray with your child. Help them think of things to pray for their sibling(s) (and other family members and friends!) to help cultivate a heart of compassion for others.
Some books that have helped give me ideas to work with are The Birth Order Book by Dr. Kevin Lehman, The 5 Love Languages of Children by Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell, and The Strong Willed Child by Dr. James Dobson. Reading books like The Bearnstein Bears and Baby Makes Five with our older kids also helped them see that it's normal to feel a bit out of sorts, but they are no less important than anyone else in the family. A regular routine of Family Worship and helping them give voice to their questions, fears, dreams, etc has gone a long way to help our older children feel more secure in their place in our family.
How have you helped your children deal with jealousy of younger siblings? What resources have helped you?