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We have a lovely 4,5 year old boy who's learned to be independent in many daily activities (e.g. eating, getting dressed up, taking a shower (supervised)...). Until recently he's generally been acting as mature as the average kid of his age. He's often commended by the teachers and other adults for his behaviour and manners. A year ago we got the second child and he has been nothing but wonderful towards her - he's bringing her toys, entertaining her when she's crying, hugging her daily, etc.

However, in recent months he realised that we don't use the same criteria on the baby as we do on him - e.g. we don't get angry if she spits her food out or throws a toy, we don't demand that she dresses up herself, we do carry her around sometimes, etc.

Basically, we treat both of them according to their ages, but he's now started asking for us to feed him, dress him up, let him play with baby toys, carry him around like a baby too, etc. When we refuse it, he gets upset and acts up. This is all understandable, but it is tiring when you have to deal with this day after day after day.

We keep explaining to him that he is older now and able to do more things on his own and we also tell him that we had treated him the same when he was one year old, but most of the time it doesn't register with him. Do you have any other suggestions for dealing with this?

Some notes: We are making sure to give both kids equal attention, to spend quality time as a family, but also quality time with him alone. The kids themselves get along perfectly, enjoy each others' company and often laugh a lot, so I don't see any problems there.

  • Are there "big boy things" that he enjoys? Privileges that he has that a baby would not? Perhaps you could give him a day of being a "baby" and let him see that it isn't something that he really wants. "I'm sorry, babies don't get to ride a bike, it's too dangerous for them" "I'm sorry, babies don't get to pick what they wear, they aren't old enough". My mom did this with one of my brothers when he decided he wanted to be a baby after he was displaced as the "baby" by a younger sister. She even went as far as to put him in a diaper. – Francine DeGrood Taylor Nov 18 '15 at 21:20
  • All this was done as a mutual decision "If you want to be a baby again that's okay, but you have to do only baby things and you get only baby toys..." After a couple of hours of this he decided that it was more fun to be a grown up boy than a baby. – Francine DeGrood Taylor Nov 18 '15 at 21:22
  • Interesting... but somehow I get the feeling that I'd get tired of that before he does. Thanks for the though anyway. – DadOfTwo Nov 23 '15 at 7:55
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We've just encountered this problem with our 4-year old after the birth of his little brother (not two month old yet). He would start complaining about not being able to handle tasks that he was doing fine before the birth of his brother, and basically act as if regressing.

Our take on this is that his definition of himself is changing, and he doesn't know to cope with that without going back to proven behaviors: acting cute, trying to make us laugh with antics he had grown out of, etc. He is not the little one in the family anymore, but he still tries to act like it.

We have been trying successfully to help him define himself with regards to the family structure. He cannot be the biggest brother (we also have a 6-year old boy) and he cannot be the youngest one anymore, but we try to reassure him about his place:

  • we acknowledge that he would like things to remain the same ("oh, you would like me to carry you like the baby")
  • we then tell him that he is changing, and that things change ("but it is hard, you have grown so much")
  • and then propose an alternative that we try to keep "special" to him ("but what about a snail hug instead?" or whatever ritual you want to invent and that will be his)

I think that by reframing the kid in regards to what is special between you, you can help him focus on what he can build upon. This helps him understand that the baby also has his special interactions with you.

Interestingly, our older doesn't have any problem like that; my wife and I think that this is because his status as the bigger brother cannot be upset. In fact he is more serene since the birth.

  • Interesting observations. The OP didn't mention if there is another older child, just two, but I can imagine the same can occur to the first child with then arrival of the second, due to changing circumstances and "status". – Nelson Nov 18 '15 at 10:11
  • What you wrote coincides with what we noticed. While this is not a complete solution for our case (and I guess there is no fast solution anyway), I feel that your suggestion is pointing in the right direction, so I decided to accept it. We'll continue working on it and I know he will grow out of it eventually. – DadOfTwo Nov 23 '15 at 7:54

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