When a new baby enters the house, older kids suddenly have to share everything—toys, resources, attention—with their new sibling.
They watch family and friends coo and fuss over the baby, while they feel ignored. They hear from their parents “I can’t play with you right now, I have to feed the baby” or “be quiet, the baby is sleeping” or “we can’t go to the park right now, it’s time for the baby’s bath.”
Many children interpret a new baby in the house as a threat to their survival. For much of history, that threat was real—and still is for many families today. Somewhere deep in the recesses of our brains, there’s a part of us that knows a new baby means less for us. Less food. Fewer resources. Less attention and time from parents.
Toy taking makes sense when we consider how scary it can be for children to have parental attention shift toward another child. As Janet Lansbury explains, “our child’s perspective might be: What’s the big deal about taking a toy or two out of the baby’s hands when she’s ripped my life apart?”
When we constantly intervene on the baby’s behalf, children see it as taking the baby’s side, and their frustration and resentment will build. Toy taking is a relatively harmless way for children to regain their sense of security and control.
Instead of punishing or getting angry with older children, try one of these responses:
Say nothing. If the baby isn’t upset, why should we be?
“It’s hard to have a new person in the house who wants to play with all of your favorite toys, isn’t it?”
“I hear Zoe waking up from her nap. Do you want to share your cars with her, or should we put them away in your room?”
“The baby was playing with the orange ball, and now you have it. She seems upset.”
Responding to their toy-taking with empathy and compassion lets them know we’re still on their side.
For everything you need to know to support beneficial conflict among siblings and peers, check out Crucial Conflict, our 48-page guide on Why Kids Struggle To Share & Why We Should Let Them.