Big Brother Syndrome


What is Big Brother Syndrome?

Is your baby irritable, frustrated, easily upset? Are you finding it difficult to leave baby on his/her playmat for more than 5 minutes before the screaming starts? He/she could be suffering from a common condition called ‘Big Brother Syndrome’. This syndrome is more common than you might think and sufferers can experience symptoms for as long as 18 years or in some cases all their lives.

Before the days when my 8-month-old could sit-up confidently on his own, he really didn’t have much drama in his life. He had a steady supply of warm mummy milk and was never short of cosy cuddles (he had two parents and three teenage siblings) and every need was catered for. He never had to lie in a soiled nappy for more than a few minutes, his clothes were kept dry with many changes throughout the day, he had milk on tap as mummy was always close by and without a real schedule, he could nap anywhere, anytime, without fuss.


Something changed however when he made the huge leap in his development to sitting confidently on his own. He now spent more time on the floor, playing with toys, practicing his rolls and planking the floor in an attempt to figure out the whole “crawling” thing. I noticed a dramatic change in his behaviour at this point. He was continually frustrated, giggling one moment and crying the next, sitting one moment and the next taking a nose dive toward the floor. Some of this could be attributed to wanting to do more than he was able, but as I observed his activity throughout the day, I realised his problem was much more serious than that.

He appeared to be suffering from the unwarranted attention of his 2-year-old big brother. I’d walk out of the room for a few minutes to prepare breakfast or lunch etc and return to find said toddler ‘riding’ his brother, who was prostrate on the floor, tummy to the ground, arms out to either side, a look of desperation on his chubby little face. Sometimes the more shocking scene would confront me (a nightmare for any parent), with the toddler trying to pick his little brother up, his short little arms wrapped around the babies chest from behind, grunts of effort echoing from his pursed lips, the baby squealing either in ignorant delight or perceptive fear, reacting in turn to mummies terrified expression. This would happen 2 or 3 times a day at the beginning until the 2-year-old realised that such actions would equal less than positive attention from Mummy.


The 130-Storey Treehouse by Andy Griffiths

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This was just one of many incidents leading to my babies ‘Big Brother Syndrome’. Other offenses toward the baby by his big brother include: 

  • Snatching toys from his hands and mouth, only to throw them outside of his reach.
  • Bending fingers and hands backwards to test flexibility.
  • Smothering with sloppy open-mouthed kisses.
  • Interrupting milky time by sticking his hand between babies mouth and Mummies milky bottles. (This is followed by giggles from both boys as milk squirts everywhere and drenches both Mummy and Baby).
  • Throwing food at him in his adjacent high chair, breakfast, lunch and dinner time (a hit between the eyes earns a hearty chuckle).
  • Stealing his dummy, teething ring, rusk or sippy cup.
  • Screaming at him to ‘go way’ when he attempts to touch ‘his’ toys.
  • Poking his wobbly bits when they share a bath.
  • Patting (or hitting) his head in attempts to pacify him when he is crying.
  • Physically forcing him to play with his age-inappropriate toys.
  • Running circles around him till he gets dizzy and falls over.
  • Continually removing his socks in the middle of winter.


These and other offenses have led to the irritability, frustrated cries and attention seeking gestures that are symptomatic of ‘Big Brother Syndrome’. The only known treatment which may reduce the severity of the syndrome is to encourage the ‘Big Brother’ to decrease the problematic actions and increase the positive ones, such as:

  • Gentle cuddles, sitting down only.
  • Sharing age-appropriate food and toys.
  • Kisses on the cheek or forehead.
  • Holding hands.
  • Telling stories.
  • Shooshing baby when he’s upset
  • Helping mummy fetch things to take care of him

Basically if you treat the toddler the baby with subsequently show a reduction in symptoms. You cannot cure “Big Brother Syndrome” but most babies will eventually grow out of it or learn to manage the symptoms and go on to live a full, happy life!


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