Second-born, But Not Second Thought

How can you help your toddler step out of her older brother’s shadow? DR RICHARD C. WOOLFSON shares five strategies.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Your toddler grows up in a different environment from your firstborn. For instance, she has to share your attention, time, resources and patience right from the start, whereas your firstborn had you all to himself, with no competition.

She has the company of her older sibling from the minute she is born, and so quickly gets used to the company of others from an early age.

But that doesn’t mean your second child will inevitably be more needy and attention seeking, or that she won’t be able to play alone. Much depends on how you raise her.

Here are five strategies to help manage your second child so she can reach her full potential:

Avoid comparisons You may be tempted to compare your toddler with her older sibling, perhaps because their development rates are different. Or maybe you are proud of her achievements compared to those of her older brother when he was that age.

Yet these comparisons are usually divisive – most children dislike having their individual talents and skills compared to those of a sibling. That’s why it’s best to resist the temptation to compare. Respond to your second child as an individual.

Make her feel important No matter how busy you are during the day, make sure you spend a few minutes every day with your toddler on her own (and do the same with your firstborn as well, of course.)

She is happy just being part of the family, but even if she adores her older sibling she still needs her share of your individual love and attention to make her feel special and important – this always has a positive effect. This strategy reduces her need to constantly seek your attention.

Develop her independence It’s only natural that your second child looks to her older sibling for help, support and company. She is used to him being there all the time and she benefits from his more advanced abilities – having a big sibling who can do more than she can is very reassuring.

But encourage her to manage on her own at times anyway, rather than seeking help the minute she struggles. She needs to learn how to stand on her own two feet without relying on others to solve her problems all the time.

Treat her fairly She doesn’t always have to be at the end of the queue when it comes to getting new clothes, and her older sibling doesn’t always have to be the one who chooses what games they play or what toys they share with each other.

Your second child wants to be first sometimes. She can make choices too, just like her brother. This encourages her independence, increases her self-esteem, boosts her confidence and reduces any sense of injustice that she might have.

Encourage her individual interests It’s easier if both your children have the same interests as that saves time and money and is easier to organise. But just because your older child enjoys a particular leisure activity doesn’t mean that your toddler will have the same enthusiasm for it.

Let her express her individuality and develop her specific interests, talents and abilities. That might be more demanding for you, but it will benefit her in the long-term.

Encourage her to express her individuality and develop her specific interests, talents and abilities.