Sibling rivalry isn’t only reserved for teen sisters vying for the cutest guy in school – it can start even before a new baby enters the home. Children who are already suffering from anxiety issues, and the flurry of fears that typically comes with them, may have a tougher time than most dealing with a brand new sibling. But there are things you do as parents to make the transition easier for everyone.
How Your Child May React
The thought of a new brother or sister may fill your child with excitement, at least initially. Younger children may view the addition as a welcome one, but they may not realize it’s a permanent addition to the household.
“After a few weeks, expect your preschooler to ask when you’re going to send the baby back,” The New York Times quotes Dr. Kent Ravenscroft, a Georgetown University associate clinical professor of psychiatry.
Your child may start sucking her thumb, wetting his pants or otherwise regressing into baby-like behavior. That’s because they see how the baby is getting all the attention and figure some of the attention can come their way if they act like that, too.
“Regression can be a good sign,” Wesleyan University psychology adjunct professor Dr. Stephen Bank tells The Times. He says it illustrates that the child who is regressing is aware of how far he or she has come. That awareness kicks in again after several months, with the child typically emerging proud that they are indeed older and bigger.
The only child who has been the center of attention usually has the toughest time accepting a new “competitor” into the realm. Psychology Today writer Carl Pickhardt, Ph.D., says the only child may feel both dethroned and demoted. The dethroning comes from taking away the child’s leading role in center stage.
Piackhardt explains the demotion: “As an only child, she considered herself one of the family three, identifying with the parents, the grown-up ‘we.’ Now, however, she has been demoted to one of the lower status ‘they,’ reduced to being considered as just one of the kids.”
Losing their status as the only child can stir up resentment and envy, both of which shall pass.
Children may not come right out and say they are feeling about the new baby. They may not even be able to identify what they are feeling. But you can take cues from things they say and do.
The Times article notes a 6-year-old girl was eager for her new brother, until the reality of it all began to set in. The girl’s mom says her daughter told her “she was looking forward to holding him until he turned blue.” The mother adds, “That told me that she was having some concerns.”
Anger and aggression can come into play, with the children upset about the disruption in the family dynamic and the fact that they’ll now have to share their parents’ love and attention. They may act out, which allows them to both express their anger and get attention for their actions.
For anxious children especially, the emotion underlying many of their feelings and behaviors can be good old-fashioned fear. Anxious children are already well-versed in worry and creating negative scenarios of the unknown. And there are plenty of unknown variables around when a new sibling comes into the home.
The fear is not usually about the new baby, either, it’s more about what will become of them.
Will mom and dad love the new baby more than they love me?
Will they play with me anymore?
Are they taking away my room? Will they give him all my toys?
Is this baby my replacement?
Will they send me to live in the woods in the middle of Montana?
Telling your child the new baby is exciting and fun! or how cool it’s going to be for them to be a big brother or big sister simply doesn’t cut it. Your best bet is to quell those anxiety-ridden fears with reassurance and action.
What You Can Do
Before the New Baby
Tell your child about the baby the same time you tell your friends you’re pregnant. You don’t want your child to hear the news from a third party, but during a face-to-face talk with mom and dad.
Spur interest. Involve your child in the process. Take him to the doctor visits and show him photos of the sonogram, advises NYU Child Study Center.
Retain interest. Don’t make everything about the baby, the baby, the baby. Make sure you still devote time and attention to your existing child, interacting, playing and talking about things he or she enjoy. And no, they don’t necessarily enjoy talking about the color of the new nursery.
Create a scrapbook that’s all about your older child. Review and include photos of him or her as a baby to remind your child how far he’s come and how big and beautiful she’s become.
Let your child “get acquainted” with babies. Visit friends who have newborns or pickup some children books on babies and new siblings.
When the New Baby Arrives
Engage in role-playing. Get your child a baby doll, so he or she can be just like mommy taking care of an infant. Such a move can also let you illustrate the proper way to hold a baby by supporting the head.
Refrain from admonishment at regression. NYU Child Study Center says not to tell your existing children to “just grow up” if they begin to act baby-like. Take it as a chance to discuss the differences between a baby and being “grown up.”
Praise the “grown up” actions. Let your child know how wonderful it is he or she is able to do so much on his or her own!
Do double-duties. Opt for activities you can do with both children, like reading a book to your older child with the baby on your lap.
Enough with the gifts! Be tactful about the plethora of presents a new baby is sure to receive. Ensure the older child gets a gift or two, too.
Never compare your children. Look for ways your older child can help with the new sibling, not compete against him or her.
Try not to time a new baby with another big family change, such as a big move. Kids have a tougher time accepting a new sibling when the family is under stress. They may also begin to associate negative feelings from the change with the arrival of the new sibling.
Devote to spend exclusively with your older child. A special play date or trip with just you and the older child can go a long way to show your child is still very important to you.
Be available to talk – and listen. Even if children have only negative feelings to share, let them share them. Talk about them. Address their concerns. Let them get out their anger by drawing or punching a pillow. Being open, honest and available is the best gift you can give to any child of any age.