Avoiding Toddler-Baby Rivalry – 7 Tips

Avoiding Toddler-Baby Rivalry – 7 Tips

“Stop poking the baby!”

When siblings are close in age, the toddler years can be extra challenging. How do you keep your cool and keep their relationship strong when your 2 YO starts poking your 9 MO baby? Here are some tips for using Language of Listening® to succeed:


1. Target specific STRENGTHs.

Identify STRENGTHs that will help your child experience him/herself as a nurturing sibling. Then look for those on purpose. (remember they’re already there), and bring them out with Success Training.

Watch for them, SAY WHAT YOU SEE (SWYS), and name the STRENGTHs after they occur (not before). Some to consider are:

  • enjoying the baby (loving)
  • controlling and stopping self (self-control, gentle, careful)
  • being able to tell what the baby likes (sensitivity, awareness of others, observant)
  • knowing how to watch out for and keep the baby safe (helpful, caring, careful).

2. SAY WHAT YOU SEE most of the time.

Pointing out things you like or that your child likes actually turns your description into a STRENGTH. When you name a specific STRENGTH, if the child repeats it like, “I gentle!” or “I like playing with baby,” those will be the ones that matter to the child and build self-trust.

3. 2 YO’s want to learn about their world.

At 2, children are very physical beings and are busy learning how things work in terms of cause and effect. It’s very objective for them; the judgments are learned from us. So some of the roughness and poking they do could be playful curiosity—”If I poke the baby, what will he do?”

You can tell by your older child’s face whether the actions are coming from curiosity, play, or aggression, but remember to look at the baby’s face and comment on that, too, because those are the signals your older child will naturally be following, which is one of the STRENGTHs you want your child to see (awareness of others):

SWYS: “You patted her gently. She likes that! You can see her smiling.” or “Oops, that was too rough. She doesn’t like that. She’s telling you. You can see her eyebrows wrinkle down right there.” (point)


STRENGTH: “You noticed that, and pulled your hand back. That shows you’re observant (or careful).”

4. Keep your guidance objective and matter-of-fact.

Focus on what works/doesn’t work, what each child likes/doesn’t like, and what they want/don’t want in your SWYS responses:

SWYS: (match older child’s energy) “You hit him. You didn’t like something he did! You didn’t want that to happen. “


CAN DO: “Must be something that will work here…”

5. Give your child a chance to succeed; only intervene when necessary.

Recognize the difference between curiosity, play, or aggression. Make sure to point out why the older child thinks the actions are OK before you set a boundary:

SWYS: “You poked her gently, and she laughed. You like it when she laughs.”


CAN DO: “Must be other ways to get her to laugh. Show me some no-poking ways.”


When the child shows you:


STRENGTH: “There, that works! You can make her laugh and keep her safe!”

6. Don’t teach boundaries your child already knows.

If your 2 YO repeatedly crosses your boundary, the child probably knows exactly where it is, so repeating it won’t help. SWYS will. Focus on what your child wants and needs instead:

SWYS: “You know not to poke him, and you did it again. Hmm. You like poking things!”


CAN DO: “Must be something you can poke! (play dough, pillow, your hand, etc)


If child continues to poke the baby:


SWYS: “Must not be about poking, but about the baby.”


Child: “Don’t like him.”


SWYS: “Ohhh! So you poked him to show him.”


Child: “No. Make him cry.”


SWYS: “You wanted him to cry. Hmmm. Sounds like how you might feel.”


Child: “Uhuh. You hold him, not me.


SWYS: “You want to be held more!”


STRENGTH: “You know what you need.”


CAN DO: “Must be something we can do about that!”

7. Spend alone time with your older child.

Firstborns do not like to share their parents. Here’s why:

Fair to them was established by what was normal before the baby was born — you and everything else in their world were 100% theirs. 50/50 seems extremely unfair because, to them (kid logic), it represents giving up 50% or more of what was rightfully theirs, whereas the baby gives up nothing, just gets!

So by even letting the baby stay in the house, older children are already sharing (hidden STRENGTH); sharing anything else, especially you, is extra and can increase their need for connection.

Saying they love the baby is good practice, but it’s not a good gauge for sibling rivalry because most children say that for you—they know it’s what you want to hear. You can tell if it’s for you if when they need leverage, they take it away from you by saying they don’t love the baby. Your child’s actions will tell you more, so watch those to see when extra connection is needed.

Since children share naturally when they feel they have enough, meeting your child’s need for extra connection will make it possible to share you without resentment. A great way to do that is to set a time the child can count on to have you all to him/herself. Random time alone is not enough.

Deliberately setting aside a specific time that your child can count on to play with you alone even 10-15 minutes a day (bath-time, one of the baby’s naptimes, etc.) where you put your child in the lead with his/her favorite toys and use Language of Listening® intensely,* can make a huge difference. Plus it gives you practice in a low-stress environment.

There is so much you can do with the three steps of Language of Listening®. They can help you feel more confident and keep the possibility of a loving, supportive sibling relationship open for your children from the very start.


*NOTE: By 3 YO, 30 minutes of undivided attention once a week is even better. That’s what we teach parents to do in our self-led, online 8-week Mastery Class. It can open your eyes to a whole new way of seeing your child that makes STRENGTHs even easier to find. For more information, click here. If you are interested in taking a facilitated version of the class, please Contact Us to let us know.

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