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Sibling Regression

The Sibling Regression

By Amalah

File this one under: Things Nobody Tells You About.

I believe I’ve mentioned once or twice or fourteen-dozen times that my older son became…intensely challenging in the weeks and months right after we brought his baby brother home. He was three years old, and he was AWFUL. I feel like I can call him that because 1) he’s not, anymore, and 2) because he was objectively, literally, monumentally AWFUL.

Bounce BackI was completely unprepared for it, though once we were in the thick of it and I felt helpless enough to confess how bratty and unlikeable he had become (and how terrified I was that by having another child I’d essentially broken my first one), that other mothers finally told me that it was all normal and to be expected.


Three Behaviors to Watch For

A new baby can rock your toddler’s world, and he’s likely to respond to the change by acting out. But it’s more than just an increase in tantrums and general mouthy defiance. You may also notice stuff like:

1. Sleep regressions. A once-great sleeper might start waking up multiple times at night, and not necessarily because the new baby is waking him up. He might start fighting bedtime tooth-and-nail like never before. Noah developed a regular habit of creeping into our room and bed in the middle of the night, and howling if we dared try to send him back to his own bed. So for several months (I wanna say at least four or five), we simply got used to having both children in bed with us. Eventually, he allowed us to move him back after he fell back asleep, and from there we sent him back to his bed earlier and earlier, and sooner or later the habit just sort of stopped altogether.

2. Potty regressions. We didn’t have this problem, thankfully, but it’s probably the one I’ve heard more parents complain about post-new-baby. Patience, patience and more patience — just like potty-training, don’t yell or punish over accidents or they’ll simply become an even bigger deal.

3. Weird attachments. A friend’s son suddenly decided he liked his baby sister’s pacifier, despite never using one before. Noah treated his sippy cups like bottles, comfort sucking from the straws for hours and refusing to drink from ANYTHING else: no juice boxes, no open cups, no open-cups-with-straws, no-open-cups-with-a-very-special-Mr.-Incredible-Crazy-Straw-like-what-the-HELL-kid. He’d go thirsty all day at school rather than drink from a non-Dora-Munchkin-cup. (Unlike everything else that eventually righted itself after a few months, he’s still awfully attached to those stupid cups. I bought Ezra a new non-Dora set in hopes of tossing the old ones and casting a nice “these cups are for BABIES” light on sippy cups in general, but after a few days Noah just started stealing the new cups from Ezra’s high chair tray whenever I wasn’t looking. Eh, whatever.)

Some kids apparently DON’T go through any really tough adjustment period — it really does depend on the older child’s age and general temperament. (Also, please don’t respond the way my squishy-soft-hearted husband did, which was to spoil the crap out of Noah with toys! and treats! and specialness! Didn’t help. Probably made things worse.) But if you are dealing with a new baby and stressing out over the fact that your first baby — the former love of your life, center of your universe — has suddenly transformed into a very difficult little person who requires more patience than you possess, allow me to now be the one to belatedly tell you that hey! Good news! It’s all normal and to be expected! You’ll start liking them again in a few weeks. Maybe a couple months, tops.

Click here for the Bounce Back archives.


About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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  • Philip @ RAOP

    May 25, 2010 at 11:01 am

    Great post. We were actually told about this and thought we were ready for it. We waited and waited, but nothing happened. It turns out that we were one of the lucky ones. Our 15 month old son was excited to be a bit brother and genuinely enjoyed having his sister around.

    The third one was similar. Although the older two keep themselves entertained and don’t pay much attention the the infant unless she is fussy or they want to giver her a kiss.

    I have heard some really out there stories about regression and am perfectly fine to have not had to experience them. 🙂

  • Jennifer

    May 25, 2010 at 12:14 pm

    My oldest daughter was just shy of 2 1/2 when I had her sister (now 10 months). We didn’t experience any regression, but just a lot, a lot, a lot of tantrumming and defiance and other challenging behaviors. To be fair, my oldest has always been challenging (she was born with an opinion on everything!), but it was just exponentially worse and has really just started getting better within the last month or two (my baby is starting talk and I think her sister likes her better for it!). Anyway, my advice would be to be prepared for tough times, in general, when introducing a new sibling. Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.

    Also, my now 3-year old is still not potty trained – not even close (still 100% in diapers). So, even though she didn’t REGRESS, she also hasn’t PROGRESSED. I’m sure the introduction of a new sibling around prime potty-training time contributed to this lack of progress.

  • Lisa M

    May 25, 2010 at 12:45 pm

    My on had some weird regressions, but the weirdest part was they didn’t start right away. He wasn’t upset at first, but then the first time the baby went to his daycare (when I went back to work), the poor kid freaked out. Daycare had been his last refuge and at least one area of his life that hadn’t changed to accommodate the bay, and now we took that from him, too. Another odd thing…he waited until the baby came to potty train. It might have been coincidence, or maybe it just clicked that babies use diapers, not big kids; but to this day, I swear it’s because the clever little bugger figured out that if he told me he had to go to the bathroom, that I’d put the baby down and go with him. Very effective tool to get Mom back, at least for a few minutes. It ‘s like it validated what we had been telling him, that he was still important, and that we were still here to take care of him.
    Eh, but it did all calm down eventually. Until the baby started crawling and walking, which brought on new frustrations for the older child. Including, gasp, sharing toys. Ha ha ha…we’re still working on that one two years later.

  • kiki

    May 25, 2010 at 1:12 pm

    We had, and still sometimes have, BIG TIME potty problems in our house. She trained at 2 1/2 and everything seemed great, At the time I was 20 or so weeks pregnant with twins. As the pregnancy progressed, and Mommy was less and less able to do normal daily things with her, I had a mother’s helper on a daily basis and I don’t know if she suspected the impending change, but about a month before the twins arrived we started having problems, particularly with number two. She would often forget while she was playing, which I am told is “normal” they just are so wrapped up in what they are doing that they don’t remember until after the accident happens. Any hoo, it sucked to have to go back to basics with two newborns in the house. And even NOW we STILL have occasional issues, read lots of books, asked lots of friends for advice. No concrete solution yet. And it is so hard to not get mad, especially when she started to put her hands in it, trying to keep the accident off her panties, OMG!!! So frustrating. Trying to keep a neutral face (and not succeeding) while cleaning one of those messes with an almost 4 year old who most of the time is completely capable of making it to the potty on her own, it is one of those things I will say to her in my mind ” I hope someday when you have your own kids…”

  • ras

    May 25, 2010 at 1:17 pm

    My Older girl was more like Lisa’s — she didn’t regress, but she did realize that the potty was a powerful weapon. I swear, for weeks, every time I started nursing, M would beeline for the bathroom. Poor E — I cannot even tell you the number of times I held her, still latched on, in one arm while using the other hand to clean M up.

    Other than that, M took things pretty well. It hasn’t been until recently, actually, that there have been some issues. Now that E’s a toddler capable of walking and (sort of) talking and grabbing big sister’s toys and running off with them. I think M is having a harder time. She doesn’t quite get why she’s held to a higher standard, discipline-wise, than E is. And while she didn’t seem to mind losing some of my attention, she is very, very unhappy when E touches her toys.

  • leanne

    May 26, 2010 at 12:34 am

    Our son was 3 1/2 when his little brother was born. Things seemed fine at first but progressively got worse as the novelty wore off. Now 10 months later we have a four year old who still likes to pretend he’s a baby, but at least the potty regression has gotten better. The baby talk, cries, and tantrums get so much worse when all the strangers come up to ogle and coo at the baby in the mall or at the playground but don’t even glance at my (equally adorable!) preschooler. I am forever grateful for the rare time when a stranger says hello to the preschooler FIRST, then coos at the baby.

  • From Belgium

    May 26, 2010 at 3:35 am

    I am due in 8 weeks and am now officially freaking out about the whole older sibling thing.

  • Liz

    February 22, 2015 at 8:29 pm

    Five years after the last response I’m responding. Oh, well, maybe some other mom, lighters away will find hope . . .

    We just had our third. We have a five year old girl, two and a half year old boy and our two week old baby boy. It is true that all kids respond differently to a new baby, even if you “prepare” them for it. Our daughter didn’t skip a beat. Baby brother was wonderful, she helped out, everything was peachy. Not so with the boy. He has turned into an alien mutant hellbeast from outer space. Threw me for a loop — still is because I have PPD with this one for the first time, maybe because he’s a winter baby, but I haven’t been into the doctor for it yet (tomorrow’s Monday so to the doctor I’ll go), but this post has given me much hope. Many thanks. Someday my horrible middle guy will be my sweet little guy again.