(Sue Atkins is a UK-based internationally recognised parenting expert, broadcaster, speaker and author of Parenting Made Easy — How to Raise Happy Children (2012))
I gave birth to a baby boy six months ago and since then my elder child who is ten years old, has been behaving strangely. She has begun to throw tantrums, won’t complete her homework, and doesn’t follow instructions. She often says that she hates her little brother. How do I cope with this situation?— Sharada Menon, Bengaluru
The arrival of a new brother or sister can be unsettling for a child of any age. Here’s my advice to cope with sibling jealousy:
• Spend quality time with your daughter doing activities she enjoys. For instance play a board game, arrange a cook-out, story-telling sessions, etc. This will make her feel special, important and loved.
• Dig out the family album and browse through her infancy photos reiterating her amazing transformation into a school-going child.
• Explain to her that she is an important member of the family team. Solicit her help in caring for her baby brother.
• Encourage other family members to reiterate their love and admiration for your daughter. This will build her self-esteem.
• Put your ten-year-old first sometimes. ‘Tell’ your infant son he will have to wait a few moments while you listen/chat to your daughter. Any small gesture which demonstrates that she is #1 on your priority list will assuage feelings of neglect.
• Acknowledge your daughter’s point of view. Occasional acknowledgements such as ‘Yes, babies do cry a lot don’t they?’ or ‘I bet you wish we could hang out alone’ will help her understand that ‘we are in this together’.
• Communicate to her that her infant brother loves her. You could say: ‘Look how much he loves you’ and ‘He won’t stop watching how expertly you ride the bicycle’.
• Assist her in her homework and project work while encouraging and praising her.
My 13-year-old daughter refuses to step out of the house even though Unlock 4.0 has begun. We live in an apartment complex that now has very few occupants with most families having moved back to their native towns because of the pandemic. Though she agrees with me that she needs physical activity and exercise, she says she is scared of contracting the virus. Please advise. — Anxious mom, Chennai
You need to have a heart-to-heart conversation. Listen patiently and non-judgmentally to her anxieties and fears about the changes of the past few months. Ask her to suggest outdoor activities that will make her feel safe. Don’t rush her into activities of your choice. You also need to join her in these activities to make her feel safe and support a new exercise routine. For instance you could go on a walk together every day or cycle together or do yoga exercises.
My daughter is turning 11 next month. She feels very self-conscious about wearing tight tops and sleeveless clothes. How do I boost her self-image? — Renuka Naidu, Hyderabad
You need to encourage her to develop a healthy body image. Explain to her the physical changes that occur during puberty. Listen patiently to her about the bodily and emotional changes she is experiencing — active listening builds openness and empathy. If for some reason your daughter isn’t opening up to you, encourage her to talk with another trusted adult.
Most importantly, it’s vital to forbid family members and friends from ‘teasing’ and making inappropriate comments about your daughter’s physical attributes, specially weight. Hurtful comments about physical characteristics have a negative influence on body image and could lead to bullying by peers.
It would also help if you highlight and praise your child’s talents such as sense of humour, kindness, musical ability, helpfulness or any other special skills or character traits.