How Can We Handle a Sibling's Regression?

Armin Brott
"Mr. Dad" Armin Brott.

New siblings are often disruptive, especially for firstborns who know they’re being displaced from the center of the universe but aren’t old enough to be rational about it. A new baby in the house can spark all kinds of behavior issues with older siblings. They can become aggressive, demanding, have trouble sleeping and, as you may have experienced, they also tend to regress, having toilet accidents, talking in baby talk, or having temper tantrums.

As frustrating as this behavior is for you, the good news is that it’s temporary. Once your toddler gets used to the baby and your expanded family—usually within three to five months—she should be back to her old self. Try not to criticize or punish the behavior. Indulge it to a point while at the same time reinforcing the fact that she’s a big sister with big-sister abilities.

You can help her get used to her new role by showing her how she can help with the baby, either by assisting with diaper changes or feedings or just entertaining the baby. Be sure to supervise her contact with him, though; while she’s going through this transition period she may get a little aggressive or try to harm him. At the same time, don’t push too hard. If your daughter resists your efforts to involve her in the baby’s care, back off. If you’re too insistent, she may end up resenting her new brother—after all, he’s your baby, not hers.

In the meantime, there are a few other things you can do to help her adjust and gently encourage her to act her own age. First, make an effort to spend time with her alone. Even if it’s just fifteen minutes a day, make sure she is getting extra attention. Read a story with her at bedtime or start putting together a scrapbook with her.

Put in pictures of her holding the new baby and of your new, larger family. While you’re at it, look back at photos of her as an infant and remind her that she was once the baby. That may help her understand that her baby brother isn’t getting anything that she never did.

At the same time, watch out for gifts—she’s likely to get jealous if every person who shows up brings something for the baby and not for her. So ask relatives and friends to bring something for your daughter as well. It doesn’t have to be big; it’s the thought that counts.

Armin Brott, hailed by Time as “the superdad’s superdad,” has written or co-written six critically acclaimed books on fatherhood, including the second edition of Fathering Your Toddler: A Dad’s Guide to the Second and Third Years (Buy Direct). Armin Brott has a DVD, "Toolbox for New Dads... because babies don't come with instructions!" His articles have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Newsweek, American Baby, Parenting, Child, Men’s Health and The Washington Post among others. Armin is an experienced radio and TV guest and has appeared on Today, CBS Overnight, Fox News, and Politically Incorrect. He’s the host of “Positive Parenting,” a weekly radio program in the San Francisco Bay Area. Visit Armin at