Today’s guest post is written by Casey O’Roarty who is a mama, Positive Discipline Trainer, Coach and Host of the Joyful Courage Parenting Podcast. At the end of this post she shares a course she is currently offering.
Help Your Older Child Adjust to the New Baby
Remember when you decided to have another child, and then you brought that baby home, and your older child became a crazy person? Maybe the older child was hurtful to the new baby? Or the older child became really needy and clingy? Did that happen to you? Are you concerned that it may happen?
It is so common for older children – toddlers all the way up to school agers – to have a hard time when a new baby joins the family. And it may not be for the reasons that you think…
One of the assumptions that grown ups often make about the behavior, is that kids have an ulterior motive. The reality is, children are navigating the world they find themselves in, with the skills they have developed over the course of their short lives, despite the fact that the emotional and survival parts of their brain are ahead in development.
Is it any wonder that they have a hard time?
It is so important to remember the power of perception here… While you and your partner may have spent many a night considering adding a new baby to the family, your older child might be content to keep things just the way they are. Life is pretty good as the only kid in the family….
Now, you may be spending lots of time talking about the baby growing in your belly with your child, and reading children’s books or looking at pictures of how that new baby is developing and how they will be born.
However, while you say there is a baby in there, it is a really tough concept for your child to fully understand.
Then the baby shows up, in the flesh.
It is glorious, and overwhelming, and exhausting.
Being a parent to a newborn is no joke, add an older child (who, by the way, will seem HUGE) and the level of overwhelm and exhaustion can go up a notch.
Here are some of the thoughts that can show up for parents:
- Was my child always this needy?
- Can’t they see I am busy?
- Don’t they know that the baby needs to be fed/diapered/held?
- Why are they whining so much?
- But she KNOWS how to use the potty – what is with the accidents?
- They just want my attention!
- Why are they so mean to the baby?
- I will show them!
But here is what our children may be feeling and deciding:
- To belong in this family, you have to be the center of attention or act like a baby
- My grown ups don’t have time for me anymore
- I don’t matter
- I feel sad
- Maybe if I have accidents, they will help me
- I am hurting, it is the baby’s fault
- I feel power and control when I am the boss or proving they can’t boss ME
The arrival of a new baby changes our older children’s world – and it is confusing. Human behavior is based on the needs of a sense of belonging and a sense of significance. So our goal when bringing a new baby into the family, is to remember to do what we can to stay connected to our older child, and offer them experiences to let them know they matter.
Here is the thing – just like you, our kids are doing the best they can. They have limited life experience to teach them how to handle the variety of intense emotions that show up when a new human joins the family. The lens they see the world out of is pretty egocentric and narrow — because they are young children — and their experience is really the only one they are skilled enough to consider.
Here are some ideas that may make the transition to four smoother
Even though it is a pretty abstract concept, do talk about the baby in your belly. Include your child in lots of conversation about the new baby. Conversation about “new baby” will begin to be the new normal. Read lots of books about it.
When the baby comes, and your older child gets whiny, remember that they are doing the best they can, and their frustration tolerance is really small. Just repeat their request in the voice and tone that you want to hear, as an invitation for the older child to try again.
When it seems like your child is being unkind towards new baby, draw them in close and whisper “I love you” into their ear. They aren’t sure about how they fit in the family, with this new dynamic, so your reassurance will do more for how they are feeling about the new baby, than any reprimand you want to give for their behavior. In fact, do this any time you think about it, they can never hear this enough. It also helps to offer other positive phrases like “I’m proud of you”.
And most important, make sure you spend at least 20 minutes each day connecting one on one with your older child. Time that is all about them and spending time together. This is one of the most powerful tools, because it is all about relationship strengthening and connection building.
A connected child feels safe and secure, and much more likely to be easygoing and cooperative.
And even when you do all the things mentioned above, remember that challenges and meltdowns and tears are all a part of the journey. Their behavior, at the root, is a bid for connection, for love, and to know they matter. Your work is to stay level headed enough to remember this, and notice when you are making assumptions and taking things personally.