3-year-old aggressive with baby brother

My 3-year-old daughter has struggled on and off since our son was born 9 months ago. She's in a phase where she gets this wild energy around him and HAS to be on top of him- jumping on/near him, pinching him, grabbing him, singing (screaming) in his face. It's like a compulsion that she can't stop. I keep them apart as much as possible when I see her going into one of these moods, but I also don't want to discourage her from playing with him or think she's in trouble because of him. Sometimes she's super sweet with him and I want to foster their bond, not pit them against each other. I react patiently the first 5 times it happens, but then I admit that I start to lose my cool and get mad. I feel like I'm failing by not helping her to process these big emotions she's obviously experiencing. Any advice or similar experiences out there? Does this sound like a normal reaction on her part, in terms of how frequently the behavior is happening? This is really weighing on me and is starting to affect my relationship with my daughter, which is the last thing I want to happen. Thanks for any insight. 

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I have boys 3 years apart and I has a similar experience. The older child is excited to have a sibling but this excitement cannot be fulfilled by an infant. On the bright side, it DOES get better, much better as a younger sibling learns to sit, then crawl, and then run. They will learn to play together :-), and fight with each other :-(, but that will be a different story.

I had such sad feelings reading this. I was bullied relentlessly by my older sister, who pinched, hit, kicked and taunted me all of my childhood years, until we were teenagers and basically didn't interact with each other. Sibling jealously is normal, of course, but I can't help but think that my parents should have intervened more vigorously when we were very young. My mother used to just shake her head and say that from the time I was brought home from the hospital, my sister behaved that way and my mom would just shrug her shoulders. I hope that there is zero tolerance for physical aggression directed at a nine month old, from anyone, including his toddler sister.  It may be that getting mad does not help, but if there is a consequence that is meaningful for her (a "time out" chair?) that you could use it the first time she is aggressive toward him and let her know that you will not put up with this even one time.

Hi there, this is actually a quite mild reaction on your daughter's part to having an "intruder" in her perfect little world she used to be the center of.  It's unusual when siblings get along at such young age. My kids are 12 years apart and still fight.  Recently, my daughter had a playdate with a 7 year old classmate who has an 18 months old sister, and the classmate wrote notes that I got to read after the playdate was over. I was shocked to see they said, "Die little sister! Die! Die! I hate you and hope you will be adopted! You are so dumb and I hate you!"  And so on, for 4 pages. The girl wrote clearly, with good spelling and grammar. I wasn't sure whether to mention this to her parents, but my therapist said this is normal and not to worry about, as long as she doesn't hurt her sister physically.

As far as how to manage your 3  year old't behavior, the main thing is that both she and the baby are safe.  I have no advice there, and would be curious to see if anyone offers any.  Kind of glad I grew up as an only child. :)

I have kids with these exact same ages (3 year old son and 9 month old daughter) and we're experiencing very similar things. The book Siblings Without Rivalry was recommended to us and it's been such a good resource. It's helped us avoid comparing our kids or unknowingly pitting them against each other, and it's helped us learn when it's okay to step back and let them manage on their own. We're still figuring this phase out ourselves, but some things that have worked for us include:

  • Telling my son "I know you love your sister and want to play right now, but I can't let you [pinch/grab/push] her like that." then separating them. Or "I know you can't wait to play with her, but she's too little for that right now." Lots of validation that he's a good big brother.
  • If the baby grabs my son's face, I make a bit of a show of saying the same stuff. "I know you love your brother but I can't let you grab his face too roughly!"
  • Explicitly asking my son what he wants. Sometimes he wants special time with me or my husband. Sometimes he really just wants to hug the baby, and I'll help him hug her in a way that's safe. Sometimes he just wants to be wild and we'll try to get his energy out another way.

     We tend to want to protect the youngest children, since they are more helpless.  Sybling jealousy is a universal phenomenon, but it gets out of control. Maybe a good tactic is to give the older child extra attention.   It is hard not to get angry, but punishment is rarely helpful.  Often children grow out of these tough situations.  To give extra times of lots of love to the older child without the younger one present, if that is possible also works.

This is a hard thing to deal with (although I think normal), and it's easy to worry this relationship you hope will be a rock is just going to crumble. My 3.5-year-old son gets the same way with his 10-month-old sister. Sometimes we call him the Whirling Dervish. If he is with his grandparents, they comment on what a cooperative, delightful child he was. As soon as I arrive with his sister to pick him up, he goes wild and slightly aggressive, toward both me and his sister - my parents have commented on the dramatic nature of the about-face in behavior.

I have done a few things to attempt to preserve the sibling relationship, and I'm not going to say they're a complete antidote, but my goal is to have everyone survive with some of the tender feelings intact, until the baby is big enough to be fun to play with and things can improve (hopefully). 

1) I make sure my son knows that he comes first sometimes, and he is ALWAYS in my heart. Sometimes this means letting the baby cry in a safe space for a little while while we finish our cuddle or book. I tell my son how much I'm going to miss him when he is away at school/playdates/grandparents. I tell him explicitly that I love him - even when I'm mad, or shopping etc. When I'm holding his sister and talking to her, I might tell her how much I love her brother, within earshot of him so he knows I'm thinking of him even when I'm with her.

2) Beyond the major safety concerns (pulling her over while on a very hard surface, grabbing around the neck, etc), I try to let the baby lead the physical interactions, as she is pretty clear about her limits. She actually seems to really like to mix it up - she'll usually crawl right back into the fray when I try to "rescue" her. I coach my son to be the one to watch her face and listen to her voice to determine what is okay. And to make the repair (check on her, give her a kiss, help her up, hold still while she rights herself, etc.) as needed. My hope is that this will enhance his empathy and emotional awareness in general. I noticed early on that I would often be yelling at my son to be gentle, while my daughter was giggling away - which felt like it undermined my position. Even when it's a safety concern, I am clear that the behavior is not allowed because it makes MOMMY anxious and worried, so that the blame can be put at the feet of the appropriate family member. I also accept my son's expression of his mad feelings without being super threatening, so he doesn't feel like he has to displace it onto an "easier" target (although I probably went a little too far on that one and now we are having some time outs when we threaten others' bodies verbally, in anger - live and learn).

3) I point out how much she delights in him. She thinks he's the bees knees, and thankfully giggles at his antics pretty reliably, so he does get a lot of reinforcement from her. He takes pride in making her chuckle. Sometimes, when he's not in the mood to hear it, this doesn't do much, but I think it's really important to the underlying relationship, and I think he knows in his bones she idealizes him already, even through the frustrations and squabbles.

4) We've also watched and talked about some Daniel Tiger episodes about interacting with baby siblings - the episode in which Daniel and his friends are playing restaurant and baby Margaret disrupts the game is a great one.

Good luck!

Forget patience! One warning and then timeout! Discipline is necessary. Also, spend some special time alone with the older child when the baby is sleeping or with someone else.