How to Discipline When A New Baby Arrives and Siblings Act Out

I’m having a very trying time with my three-year-old at the moment. He is a very bright, highly spirited and sensitive little boy. His baby brother was born just a month ago so I appreciate he has had a lot of change to deal with lately. But to be frank I am running out of ideas! He is very physical and often hurts me and the baby. I came under a lot of pressure from certain family members to take a firmer stand with him as they believed I was being too soft and rewarding bad behaviour. So reluctantly, I have started using time out even though it doesn’t fit with my ethos and I know it is not particularly effective either. I am simply at the end of my tether and do not know what else to do. I think he often behaves this way to get attention and it’s true if I am 100% focused on him, he will not act up. But with a 4-week-old baby to care for as well, this is simply not feasible. I would really appreciate any advice as I’m really not being the sort of mother I want to be right now. 

Welcoming a new baby into the home is such a joy! When it’s the second baby or beyond, this wonderful time also comes with many challenges, including finding ways to  connect and offer appropriate guidance to siblings.

Much like this mother has shared, for many children, the arrival of a new baby may bring with it a host of  mistaken behaviors.  Hitting, kicking, spitting, self-care regression like toilet refusal, bed wetting are very common. When a new baby arrives, children may also experience a sudden inability locate a tooth brush or pajamas alone,  they may whine and demand instead of making clear requests. Children may also decide they no longer like certain foods, can’t sleep with the light off, must have mom’s hand to do everything. To top it all off, when mom and dad make an effort to connect and play together, children may respond by throwing intense, long lasting tantrums.  These steps “backwards” are all means for coping and expressing the mix of emotions that comes with a new baby “invading” their home.

Children that feel jealous of their siblings and act out are not bad, naughty or selfish.

Jealousy among siblings is normal. In fact, while it’s hard for us parents to hear it, it’s quite age appropriate and common for the older siblings, particularly those under the age of ten, to not only act out by pinching, poking and trying to hit, but to also say things like:

  • “Send baby back to the hospital.”
  • “I don’t want a brother.”
  • “I’m the only baby”
  • “I HATE that baby”

Many parents have this hope and vision of happy, loving,  hand holding siblings.   This is certainly possible, and  it is not an effortless process.   This is especially true when it comes to connecting and providing guidance based discipline to an older child when a new baby arrives and as they continue to grow together. 

So what kind of connection and discipline does a child need when the baby arrives?


Knowing what and where sibling jealousy comes from can help us reframe our expectations.  Mostly, sibling jealousy is just human nature at work.  Every child has an inner protective instinct to want to keep parents to himself. Children also tend to appreciate predictability and  would rather not “rock the boat” of their otherwise normal, known routine with a newcomer. Part of sibling jealousy it is also fear of rejection or fear of no longer being unconditionally loved by mom and dad. “What if they love the baby more than me?” is a genuine concern for many children.


If your child says hurtful things, like they hate you, the baby and so on, listen with the intent to validate. I remember telling my oldest a few weeks into the birth of his sister (baby #3) something like “Gosh sometimes it must feel so unlucky to have to have two other siblings. Man, I know the feeling, I had two little sisters myself. Most days I loved having sisters, but yeah, some days, I really wished my mom would hug only me!” His face lit up, and he knew I really did understand him. Acceptance and validation has worked so well here with all three children, they genuinely love spending time together (save the occasional conflict!). Don't insist siblings love each other,

Don’t insist siblings love each other, this will come with time, as they interact and discover how fun it can be to play and be with each other. If a child says “I hate the baby” instead of making a big deal out of it, or insisting this cannot be true, take it as a clue that they may need some extra love, validation and comfort.

Many Moments of Connection

All children really need their love buckets or emotional well being cups filled often to feel well.

I know first hand it is one tough request from parents of a newborn to focus on meeting the individual needs of  two, three, or more children, while being sleep deprived and juggling feedings, diaper changes and everything else.  Children with new siblings deplete their connection reserves faster then you can imagine. Don’t save to connect only at the end of the day, as much as possible, pause and connect for short moments throughout the day.

In Positive Discipline by Jane Nelsen, there is a wonderful tool for helping with connection.  Special Time is all about making time to connect with your child. For a young child, set aside 10 minutes a day (or a few times a day if you can manage) to play, listen or just be fully present with your child.  This really makes a big difference to children with a new baby sibling!


What to Know about Punishment and Helping Children Cope With New Baby

Children that have a new sibling at home are already dealing with a lot of big feelings, routine changes and possibly wondering if they will be rejected or still loved. Punishment and consequently making a child feel badly about themselves will not help them feel accepted, loved and want to cooperate.  As the mother shared in her post, it’s not effective anyways. While as parents we may feel like by punishing we are “doing something” about the misbehavior, really it’s not giving the child what they really need. In turn this will lead to a cycle of  more mistaken behaviors and more punishments. (If you find yourself under pressure from others, try to remind yourself, that you are the parent and that if you are confident with your decision, then your child will be more likely to follow your guidance.)

The Alternatives for punishment that will take care of immediate misbehavior 

Set limits with kindness and follow through. For example, if an sibling is poking the baby simply say “I will not let you poke the baby.”  Calmly, stand between your two children and make it physically clear you are setting a limit. If the older sibling cries, kicks, hits, screams, as a response, limit the behavior but stay present, listen, validate and wait for the storm to pass. If both children cry at the same time, take a deep breath. This moment WILL pass. Sit on the floor, hold the baby and offer to hold your older child as well. (Use your best judgement here as to how best keep everyone safe!)  If your older child refuses your comfort, calm the baby down and then reconnect with the older child when they are ready. Tears and tantrums are not things to be punished or bribed away. Sometimes children really just need to off load a whole lot of stored up feelings. Trust that your child is able to feel all this and come through on the other side just fine.

Be Proactive

Being pro-active is also really important so supervise, supervise and supervise. If you are dealing with aggression, know where each child is at all times to keep everyone safe. If you have a toddler or preschooler that is getting “into trouble” when you are tending to baby have them stay close by with a box of toys and books for example. This box can be special and only given to the child when you must tend to the baby.  Shut the door to one room so you are all together if you must make sure your toddler is not escaping into “trouble.” Setting these physical limits allows you to remain calm and focused on one task at a time.

Flexibility is KEY

Include flexibility into your parenting decisions in these early weeks, making exceptions is really OK if they are framed as such.   Also keep your expectations realistic, while the baby is very small and needs you often, the older sibling needs you too. Toddlers and preschoolers make many immature and impulsive decisions, and it’s easy to forget this when they seem so much bigger and more capable then little baby!

Involve & Encourage

Let older siblings help, but not in a way that they feel obligated. Instead, welcome the child’s participation in the baby’s care and their own care.   Invite children to cook with you, to read a story out loud to the baby, to fold their own socks plus baby socks etc…Say thank you and express appreciation for their assistance. If your older child is asking for extra help with their own care (more hungs, mommy dries my hair, pick me up, I’m the baby…) tend to the requests as best as possible, this phase WILL pass!

Talk about your love for your child – each and every day. Explain that your heart has enough love to go around and that you will never stop loving your little one. Children really need to hear this alot when a new sibling is born. “I love you sooo much, I am so happy I get to be your mom!!”

Take heart, this phase will pass. Expecting misbehavior and mistaken ways to gain attention in the first few months of the arrival of a new sibling makes it easier to navigate it when it happens.  Use your positive parenting tool box, like validation, listening, setting limits, offering second chances and so on. It’s precisely when children “misbehave” that they need us to use our tools to offer them connected guidance.

Peace & Be Well,



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Ariadne is a happy and busy mama to three children. She practices peaceful, playful, responsive parenting and is passionate about all things parenting and chocolate. Ariadne has a B.S. in Communication, is a certified Positive Discipline Parenting Educator, and has completed several graduate courses in child development, psychology and family counseling. She lives on top of a beautiful mountain with her family, one cuddly dog and "bluey" the fish.

14 thoughts on “How to Discipline When A New Baby Arrives and Siblings Act Out

  • Eliza

    I really enjoyed the article. I have been trying really hard to promote positive parenting with my first two (3y and 5y). But for me it seems the more I empathise and the more I try and connect the worse my eldest is. She is so aggressive with her sister and just hits her for no reason and then she laughs when I bring them together in a ‘peace ring’ and just goes through the motions of apologising and will do the same thing again two minutes later. I feel she has no respect for me or what I am saying. We are expecting our third and I am petrified as to how this will play out. Any thoughts. Thanks so much

    • Hi Eliza,
      Siblings often instigate conflict with one another because they are so sure this will being mom or dad running to make peace. Do you find your limits are clear? Do you find they are truly ready to make peace when you place them in the ring? Do they have to enter the ring or is it a choice? I understand the sentiment and idea behind a peace ring, it can be a wonderful place to exchange reflective listening, but I am wondering if your daughter is feeling annoyed or frustrated with her sister and not really done feeling what she is feeling by being in the peace ring. Are they actually ready to make peace or this important to you? It’s ok if it is important to you, but can you see the possibility that the apology will not be genuine (therefore the behavior will return) if the feelings are not really fully processed yet? Can you allow the sisters to just not be getting along for a bit, as in give them space to be mad or annoyed at each other, allow them to separate and to use a calming ritual before they chose to be together again? Does the oldest remember when her sister arrived? Is she nervous about sharing yet again? What if anything can you do to connect and try to understand what is really under this aggression? I hope these questions are helpful, please feel free to follow up or send me an email!

  • Stacey

    I have just discovered you and your helpful posts. I have a four year old, a 23-month old, and a four week old baby. I have felt as if I’m drowning at times because of misbehavior and extra neediness from my older two, and I’m guilty of expecting too much from them because they are older. My older two seem to either be fighting or “escaping” to get into some sort of mischief, so I love your idea about corralling them in a space with special toys for times I am nursing the baby, etc. I have been poorly equipped in positive parenting methods and have tried everything to help with listening and misbehavior. Having read this, I’m excited to put your tips into practice and help my older two receive what they need from me. I’m also excited to feel more in control of life and confident in the way I handle problems. Thank you!

  • Becca

    This situation is just like mine.. My three year old always steals the babies toys and hides them, or always wants to play with them when the baby has them.. She takes extra long to do things, won’t feed herself anymore, annoys everyone and whines constantly.. It’s really annoying.. We mostly started sending her to her room when she does something that is not nice like hitting the baby or just anything to the baby.. She’s good on the other hand with her.. But it’s like no matter how much attention we give her, she cant just be alone for 1 min without jumping on us or doing something to get our attention.. I relieze it’s normal for them to do this..But I can’t help but be very annoyed and feeling disconnected because my child has NEVER done this until the baby.. ive rarely dealt with this behaviour or having to yell.. I try to put these steps in motion.. But I can’t help but feel this angry and hateful feeling when she starts acting like this that i don’t even want to be around her anymore.. Disconnected you can say.. That when she cries, i just dont care. Any Advice?

    • Hi Becca,
      The transition from one to two children can be so hard. It’s also something that I find doesn’t get discussed so openly, afterall it can feel very raw and vulnerable to openly admit that they dislike their oldest child now that baby has arrived. I’m sure you still love your three year old very very much but that it feels hard to show it right now…. Here is the truth, you are not alone in feeling like this, you are tired, most likely sleeping much less than before or experiencing very broken sleep. Having to stretch yourself between two very young children’s constant needs is a full time job. Age three is challenging without the arrival of a sibling and as you noticed your three year old is feeling challenged with this transition. In my coaching practice, when mama’s are feeling like this we work on self- forgiveness and compassion. We also make lists of all the good things you see, love and adore about your older child. When you are so angry you can’t take it anymore, you go and read that list over and over and stare at her baby pictures and recent pictures and when you are ready you go and give her a big hub and kiss. ASK for help if someone can help you with the care of both babies so you can get some rest (a mother’s helper, a cleaner, family or a baby sitter?). Look into really good activities that your 3 yr old may like to do like audio books, blocks and busy bags, help her learn to play independently but keep her company too. Get outside walking (really helps re-shift your mood) and if you can find a fenced in park let your 3 year old run to let out energy! If you feel hopeless or irritated to the brink, please reach out for help. This will get better and easier, it really will!!

  • em

    Ariadne, I’m late to the party… Just read your article, referred by my daughter’s school counselor. Thx for good healthy & + parenting tips. All I need is to remember this & use it/ practice it daily. It’s hard to think straight & make the good decision/choices when I’m angry. I like the idea of making the list of all the good about my older child, especially when its for a very stubborn & defiant 6 year old (power struggle). She pulled some numbers on us recently, to the point I’m very worried & concerned about her hurting herself more seriously. I know… setting clear limits/boundries. Pls help TIA

  • Ashley

    Becca, Thank you for being so honest in your post. It’s hard to say that that you don’t want to be around one of your kids out loud. It’s everything I’ve been thinking. I have a 12yr old, 3.5year old, and a 6 week old. My oldest, though not always thrilled with having another baby’s schedule slow our regular schedule down, is tremendously helpful with the new baby. She’s even better than she was with her other sister was born. I know she has been a little frustrated with the changes, but she jumps in and we spend time together while I’m caring for the baby. My 3.5 year old is a rough and tumble little girl, naturally aggressive and quite dramatic/imaginative. She’s really having a hard time accepting the baby. As I’ve read is typical, she’s regressed from fully potty trained day and night, to back in diapers at night and daytime is pretty iffy. She is extremely aggressive anytime she’s around the baby, hitting, pinching, poking her, then turning around and begging to hold “her” baby. I feel horrible that most of the time I have to say no or ask her to back up from the baby, but I can’t trust her. Her fits have ramped up and most of her anger is directed physically at me. When she can’t take it out on me or an opportunity arises, she takes it out on her big sister. This has been happening throughout the pregnancy as well, so she and her big sister have a very strained relationship (though big sister had to help with her despite the feelings.) On top of the acting out and the physical/destructive behavior, she has not been sleeping well, so even when I get the baby down, I am still up with the 3 year old. I’m at my wit’s end. There are days I can’t stand to be in the same room with her. She is normally a very thoughtful child, full of empathy and wanting to take care of people. I miss seeing that in her. I am not parenting the way she needs. I have been guilting myself by thinking that all I do these days is correct/punish my child, and that I’m going to ruin my sweet girl that I really do love dearly. I am just trying to survive this season. All this to say, Becca, I completely understand and pray that things will get better soon. Ariadne, I am going to try the methods suggested here, and I pray that they will help. I know they definitely won’t hurt. Thank you!

    • Ashley,

      Thank you for your honest sharing here. You are going through a very challenging and often difficult time in parenting, a new baby is a blessing and for the children already in the house it can be a huge transition. I hope the suggestions are helpful to you – I am always available for questions via mail and we have a Q&a group on facebook too if you just need a place to talk to me and other parents. It’s OK to forgive no biggies right now for the 3.5 yr old – she is going to act out and test and test that love – I wish you much strength and patience as you all adjust.

  • Rae

    My daughter turns four next month and I just had a baby two months ago. My older daughter never says she hates the baby or she wants the baby to leave – but she has been having extreme temper tantrums over and over again every single night – to the point that she is throwing things and kicking me. This behavior is never directed at the baby – only me. It is so hard because I feel like I am going above and beyond to fill her up with love – I make a huge deal when she helps with the baby, have been making sure to have special time with her, going on “one on one” dates with her, asking her to help me in the kitchen and with other chores, telling her how much I love her, etc. On top of all this, I am almost taking care of the baby – it’s exhausting. Despite all my efforts, the tantrums keep happening and I go to bed every night feeling like a failure – not to mention feeling like I am walking on egg shells wondering when my older daughter will blow up next. So hard, so exhausting!

    • Hi Rae,
      I would encourage you see your daughters tantrums as an emotional release and not a negative reflection on your part. Just the opposite, your daughter feels safe enough to release all her feelings at the end of the day and as such is crying. If her fits become aggressive and so often to the point that your regular daily life is disrupted do reach out to your pediatrician for some reassurance and a check up. If the tantrums really are just an end of the day happening, do know that with time and your patience and guidance your daughter will learn to regulate her emotions better. You may want to start talking about feeling words and reading books that talk about anger , sadness etc so your daughter has more to add to her emotional vocabulary. The first few months with a baby is often challenging for the whole family, don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. If you have another family member that can take your daughter out so you can rest that would be good for both of you as well. Lastly, instead of making a “huge” deal about her helping, try to just welcome her to help and if she wants to, thank her, if not , let her be. She may feel a bit pressured to “perform” like a big sister. In other words, let her do a little less if she seems to want to just be on her own sometimes. I hope this helps you.

  • Mila

    We have 3.5 year old daughter who was such a great kid. She was so grown up for her age. Well behaved, sweet, understanding, caring… We had no tantrums, ever. If she wanted something she couldn\’t get we would explain why she can\’t have it and she would be fine. If we said NO to something, she would listen. When we told her to do something she would do it. She was a perfect little girl. Always hugging us and telling us how much she loves us. Two weeks ago she got a little sister. She has no problems with the baby. She loves her but keeps her distance. She would come every now and then to touch and kiss her but mostly doesn\’t pay attention to the baby. However her behavior towards everything and everyone else has changed drastically. She cries all the time. If things are not her way she\’ll either scream and shout or cry. If she wants something, it has to be done same second, she can\’t wait. If she asks for something that\’s not possible to do or get, no matter how much we try to explain, she\’ll demand and throw tantrum. She talks back and argues when told things she doesn\’t like and even told us she doesn\’t want to be a good girl any more. There are times when she completely ignores us. Won\’t answer our questions and just shuts herself out. Also, she\’s getting physical and aggressive towards her toys. We don\’t know how to deal with this. Her father is short tempered. He yells and punishes her by taking things away. Me, on the other hand, am trying to be understanding, caring and to show her love. I try to spend lots of time with her but nothing is ever enough. No matter what I do, I can\’t reach her and reason with her. I feel like I\’ve lost my sweet little girl and it\’s killing me. Have I really lost her? Could this be just a phase she\’s going through? What should I do?

  • Amanda Leopardi

    I have 5 children from age 21 to 4 weeks old , although I am an exsperienced mother I have never had two in close age range as I do now . I have a 23 month old and an 1 month old I’m breast feeding them both ( thinking this would help the adjustment) and I am at my wits end with my very spirited 24 month old she’s been very aggressive biting slapping her new sister and it seems to come out of nowhere when everything is calm and it looks like she is coming over to be nice . I understand she is jealous, and have tried dealing with it in different ways but non seem to work I need help !

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