Having a baby is supposedly the most natural thing in the world! But as any parent will tell you, introducing a new child to the family can bring on a mix of emotions and does not always feel this way. These feelings are often brought into sharper focus when there are older children in the family who continue to demand time and attention. A recent study has found that nearly 80% of children have at least one sibling, making this life event normative, but the ‘common’ factor in no way means that it is easy.
Recovering from the birth and caring for a newborn is enough of a load for most parents and when you add managing older siblings as well as worrying about nurturing a positive sibling bond parents can be left completely overwhelmed. The good news is that there are steps you can take to aid this transition and to help yourself and your children feel more in control of what is happening within the family unit.
Many children will experience the transition to siblinghood between the ages of 2 and 4, while they are in the midst of a developmental period known for its inability to regulate emotions. At this age therefore, it is not uncommon for children to demonstrate developmentally regressive behaviours which can include going backwards with toilet training, being more aggressive or refusing to listen.
These behaviours are often caused by children processing the new normal and trying to get to grips with what this means for them. Many children struggle to understand what has happened to their family as they knew it. Helping children through these feelings can be a big help and ways to do that include using social stories, worry boxes and pictures to try and have a conversation with your child about how they are feeling.
You may be surprised by the results!
Ensuring that consistency remains in your child’s life is crucial to provide them with a sense of security and control. However, this is easier said than done when you are feeling like you are standing in quick sand. Some ideas of how to do this include:
· Having a visual schedule for your child’s morning and evening routines which remain the same, no matter where they are or who is in charge
· Having pictures on their wall of where they are on which day of the week and trying not to switch which days they are in childcare or with grandparents
· Having a set of behaviour expectations which are consistent and are followed up with consequences no matter who is doing the parenting!
The majority of children struggle the most with having their parent’s attention further divided when a new baby enters the mix. Whilst a mother’s love or ‘heart’ can grow with each child, the hours in her day certainly don’t. However, creating one on one quality time with each child in the family can help the parent and the child feel that their relationship is still intact and continues to be nurtured. This should be something done separately with each parent as often as possible. It isn’t necessary for it to be a long or expensive activity but giving your child time where they feel you belong to them without worrying about a baby monitor or someone else’s homework makes your child feel valued and important. This can include reading stories before bed or coming with you alone on an errand.
If your relationship with each individual child can be kept positive, it will be much easier to then nurture the bond between your children and the new addition. Kids under 3 are mostly unable to understand the concept of sharing, and this is why they struggle to share you with the new baby. However, they do like being your helper! One way to give children a sense of their ‘place’ within the new family dynamic, and build a nurturing bond between siblings, is to delegate age appropriate baby-care tasks, like helping with the bath or bringing a nappy to mum each time baby needs a change. Bigger kids can assist by watching the younger kids for a few minutes. This way, they are empowered to feel that with this change comes the benefit of responsibility and the pride that comes with being helpful. By giving big kids ‘jobs’, they begin to get a sense of control over a situation which they previously felt no control over.
By ensuring that each child has their role to play within the family unit, you are allowing for your own family traditions to develop. The aim is that this will help to bond your children as they share these experiences and values together. By doing activities as a whole family, you show your children that the new reality and dynamic is fun and positive and something that they want to be a part of.
All families evolve and change and making room for a new baby is about accepting that reality and working to help everyone within the family to adapt to all that is involved in being a part of a bigger family unit.
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