Many parents are caught off guard by how hard it can be when they add to their family. It doesn’t have to be!
If you can make this transition a smooth one, life will feel easier and you will be laying the foundations for a great sibling relationship. Here’s what you need to know before you have another baby. (Watch the video here.)
1. This will be very difficult for your older child.
You are probably adding to your family partly to give your child the gift of a sibling. Someday your child will appreciate this- but right now it’s pretty much the worst thing they can think of.
Imagine your partner brings home a lover- how would you feel as your partner gazes passionately at this new love? Pretty terrible.
While most older children are excited to have a sibling, they are also mourning the loss of you. They will miss being your only baby and the centre of your world. They will wonder if you still love them. They might even feel replaced. “If I were good enough, mom and dad wouldn’t have wanted a smaller, cuter version of me.”
Find as much empathy as you can. If you understand how this feels for your older child, you will be able to navigate the ups and downs with love and patience.
2. Your older child needs help with their big feelings.
Expect, recognize, accept your child’s mixed feelings. They love the baby AND they wish the baby were never born. That’s fine! Don’t worry. This is normal.
You can help your child by talking about their mixed feelings and helping them find the tears.
If your child is old enough to understand, you can say: “I wonder if you miss when it was just the 3 of us. I wonder if you wish YOU were still the baby and we would send your brother back. It’s okay to feel that way. I love you no matter what.”
If your child is very young or doesn’t want to talk, ANY tears are helpful. A big cry about a skinned knee will help your child move all the difficult feelings out of their body.
Your child needs help to process all these big feelings. They need to cry (and laugh) as much as possible. Crying (and laughing) is how we move the difficult feelings out of our bodies. Be empathetic when they are upset – over big things or seemingly ridiculous things – and encourage the tears.
Welcome all the big feelings. Hold the space for your child. This is how they will get through to the other side. Your child is processing all the fears of being replaced and the grief of having to share you.
3. Your older child is doing the best they can.
Your child wants to be good. Your love and approval mean the world to your child. If they’re is being difficult, it’s because they actually can’t manage to be better right now. They are trying to get their needs met and they don’t know how.
If your child could figure out how to get your attention by saying, “Mama, I feel really sad and mad. I need you. I need some attention,” they would. Instead, they look at you and pour their juice on the table.
If your child is acting out because they need attention, give it to them. If your child was acting out because they were hungry or tired, you would never withhold food or keep them awake. For a small child, attention is as important as food or sleep.
Your child may be very weepy, whiny, clingy or demanding. This is a sign that they need to cry! Say no to the second cookie and hold them while they cry.
If your child is regressing, don’t worry. This is normal. Regression is a response to overwhelm. They are incapable of managing what they could handle a few months ago. The sleep, the toilet training, the independence will come back. Your child needs some extra help and nurturing right now.
4. Your older child still wants to be the baby.
We often stress the “You’re a big kid now!” But no matter how big your child is, they still want to be a baby sometimes.
Your child needs extra nurturing and babying right now.
Play “Baby Your-Child’s-Name.” Rock them, coo at them, pretend to feed them, dangle a rattle, dress them. Talk about when they were a baby, show them pictures, sing the baby songs.
Help them if they ask you- even if you know they can do it themselves.
Stressing that they are a big kid will make them feel they are being pushed out of the nest. Don’t worry! Your child has a very strong natural drive for independence. Giving them as much nurturing as they need gives them the confidence and strength to fly out of the nest when they are ready to fly.
5. Your older child needs time alone with you.
Often the care of the older child to goes to our partner or other help we might have when we are busy with a baby. Try as much as you can to keep up some of the day-to-day care of your older child.
An easy way to get powerful one-on-one time? You don’t need to get a babysitter or leave the house. Special Time is one-on-one time but super-charged. Call it “Your Child’s Name Time” and make sure you have no distractions for 15 minutes. Join your child in their world of play. No books, screens or structured activities. Play Lego, stuffed animals, roughhouse. What makes it so special is that you are joining your child in play. Set a timer. (The end of Special Time can also be a great opportunity to get some of those tears out!)
If you can manage to do some daily care and get one-on-one time, your older child will feel they still matter and feel less resentful of the new baby.
If you can recognize how hard this is for your child and see it from their point of you, your empathy and loving attention will make life so much easier. Baby your child so they know they still have you. Let them know that their big and confusing feelings are okay and help them cry.
Set your children up for a lifetime of best buds, not rivals for your attention and affection. It starts now.
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Sarah Rosensweet is a peaceful parenting coach and educator. She lives in Toronto with her husband and three big kids (ages 10, 13, and 17). Sarah teaches parents a non-punitive, connection-based approach that uses firm limits with lots of empathy. Sarah is an API certified parenting educator and is certified by Dr. Laura Markham as an Aha! Peaceful Parenting Coach. Find her on Facebook or at sarahrosensweet.com