It’s not all joy and laughter when a new baby joins the family. For your other children having to share your attention with a new sibling can seriously put their nose out of joint.
The new arrival
OK, let’s say your husband or partner leaves home for a couple of days. When he comes back again, he has brought with him a new wife. She is very fragile, unbelievably demanding, and she sucks up the majority of your husband’s attention. But your husband is quite clearly enraptured by her. And rather than sharing your disgust at this situation, everyone else around you seems to think she’s rather wonderful, too. You struggle bravely on with this situation in the hope that sooner or later she’ll go back where she came from. But at some point it hits you: she’s here to stay. A crude analogy, perhaps, but it demonstrates how the arrival of a new baby in the family can totally stink for older siblings, particularly for those who’ve been an only child until then.
You can make it easier for them, but remember: whatever efforts you make, it’s potentially a tough time for any kid. Take comfort that whatever discord abounds when there’s a new kid on the block is unlikely to be lasting. By the time their first birthday has rolled around, no one will recall a time when they weren’t part of the family.
Having a new sibling can be a tricky time for little ones, especially if they’re currently the youngest in the family. All children have feelings of displacement and jealousy, however old they are, but slightly older children are able to think it through and rationalize their worries. They often experience love/hate feelings for a new baby – they love the new addition because clearly their parents love him, too, and some enjoy treating the baby like a doll, giving it hugs and pretending to feed it.
The ‘hate’ feelings come in when the child realizes that they actually have to compete with this new addition for parents’ time. As with any competition, humans feel resentment towards the very thing that they’re having to compete with. Most children react with some increase in difficult behavior. They may become more demanding, particularly at separation times. They may also develop all sorts of tricks for getting their parents’ attention, for example, claiming they feel sick, or stopping eating.
For your own sanity and to minimze their feelings that their world really has gone upside down, stick to as many of the rules and boundaries you had before: for example, bedtime, dinner time. This is difficult in reality, but it helps the child to know that the world keeps on turning in its familiar way, and gives predictability at a time when there isn’t much. Finally, I doubt there isn’t a day when mums and dads don’t feel guilty about some aspect of parenting. Having another baby is not a hurtful thing to do – it’s just another life event that an older sibling needs time to adjust to.
The problem solved
Preparation, preparation, preparation
You can ease the shock of a new sibling by preparing your older one. Tell them as soon as is practical and let them watch and feel the growing bump, explaining how the baby is developing. Let them help get the nursery ready with you, choose new stuff, or sort through the hand-me-downs that you’ve earmarked for the baby. Be prepared for them to re-claim items they’ve long since grown out of, and never force them to hand anything over they don’t want to.
Casually talk about how the new arrival will affect life at home, how routines will change, and what a lot of help, care and patience they will require. It’s also worth getting hold of one of the many books that have been specially written on the subject. They may quietly take the story in, or they may be inspired to ask any questions and talk about worries that are forming in their minds.
Another useful way to open up the subject – and to emphasise how much attention they got, when they were tiny – is to get out their baby photo albums. Talking about potential names together is a nice thing to do. Some parents are even happy to let an older child decide independently what their sibling will be called: just make sure you’re happy with everything that’s on the shortlist!
After the birth, it’s a good idea to let your older child or children visit you and the new baby in hospital, rather than returning home with their new sister or brother. Lots of new babies these days bring presents for their older siblings – how much this is likely to act as a ‘sweetener’ is debatable, but a highly desirable gift may provide a useful distraction for a while.
But I’m your baby, too
A new sibling may cause a young child to regress in an obvious way – they may dig out their old feeding bottles, insist you tuck them up in the baby’s cot, or even try out his nappies for size. It will be a brief phase, aimed at reminding you that they were your baby first, and it’s OK to humour them.
If they revert back to behaviours they had got to grips with, wetting themselves for example, it may be a cry for attention, or a subconscious response to the big changes. It should right itself in a short time and you’ll need to be patient and kind – the ever trusty sticker chart or a similar reward system comes into its own here. Big up their role as older brother or sister.
Emphasising how ‘grown up’, clever and responsible they are usually helps, especially if you point out the many benefits of being older: being able to watch TV, eat sweets sometimes, and enjoy outings without falling asleep. Avoid banging on about setting a good example – now and in the future. It may cause them to resent their seniority!
Time for them
There’s not much getting round the fact that new babies sap the majority of your time and attention. But it’s vital to give older siblings a bit of you, too. Spend as many precious moments as you can with them – and without the baby – and make sure they also get lots of positive attention from other members of the family, by way of compensation.
Even if you’re busy, perhaps feeding the baby, pay them attention by talking to them, or encouraging them to sit quietly by your side. Talk to them as much as possible, anyway. Keep them informed, and encourage them to express their feelings. Say you love them, and keep telling them you love them. At this point, it may be hard for them to believe that you do.