We have a new baby and an 18-month-old girl. The 18-month-old is slapping the baby whenever we let her come close to him. We talk to her about what we are doing and say, “be gentle” and we stroke the baby softly to show her what we mean, but our toddler will quickly slap the baby on the head or body. She does show lots of interest in him, but we are afraid to let them interact because she always hurts him. How can we teach her to be gentle?
Congratulations on your new baby. Was he born since the Covid-19 restrictions? If so, what was that experience like? I could imagine it was very different to your first birth. It’s good to know you are all home safe and adjusting to your new family life.
I mention the adjusting advisedly. It is not just your daughter that will be adjusting. We sometimes forget just how “upending” new babies are for us parents too. Both you and she have to get used to the increased workload, associated with the physical care of her and her brother. You both may feel very much out of your routines and may be struggling accordingly.
This level of disruption is an important factor to consider with your older girl. For a start, there is not much of an age gap between the children, and so she is very young herself to be able to both understand and express what it is like to have this new interloper in the family!
She may be struggling with the fact that her little brother has usurped her position in your arms, or needs to be fed before her, or demands your time when she, too, wants that time.
All of these are normal and expected adjustments for older siblings to have to make, but just because they can be expected, doesn’t mean they are easy. Your daughter’s slapping at her brother may be her way of telling you and him that she liked it more when he wasn’t around!
Your daughter may just need more nurturing from you, generally. She needs you to be spending lots of time with her, as well as with the baby. Reminding her of nice times you spent with her, in her babyhood (with photos and stories), will help remind her that she is precious to you too.
Even though she is only 18-months-old, it is still worth empathising with her about how difficult she may find the adjustment. Even if the words aren’t fully understood, the tone and manner of your discussion will help her to know that you do understand that this might be difficult for her.
When she is with her brother, you need to continue to be vigilant and to try to distract or move her away if you feel she is going to hurt him in some way. The approach you have, in guiding her hands to be gentle and demonstrating and describing the nice ways to touch her brother are spot on.
Alongside the time she spends with him, you might also want to involve her in caring for her little brother, helping to get nappies, picking out clothes for him, or choosing a teddy for him. Allowing her to feel important and caring might also help her to adjust quicker and discover the positive qualities of having a brother.