Making Room for Two
By Andy Eig, PhD. Clinical Psychologist
Introducing a second child is rarely easy. Parents often fret about how the first child will accept their beautiful, cute, new baby brother or sister. Common folklore equates bringing home a second child to a wife showing up for dinner with a new mate and saying that everything will be great. The new husband will be here forever and you two will be great friends! Although the first child will certainly experience a disruption in the parent-child bond that poses a challenge to well-intentioned parents, a sibling certainly will bring lifelong rewards. Let us review some ways to make this transition a bit less rocky for everyone.
Preparing The Big Sibling For The New Addition
Before the baby is born, parents are best off including the first born in the pregnancy where appropriate. Toddlers may do best when they are shown where the baby will sleep. They often enjoy having a baby doll around that can be diapered, fed and calmed when crying. A tour of the hospital to see where mommy and daddy will be when the new baby comes can relieve separation anxiety and make them feel that they are included. Older children can be included in conversations about what it will be like to have a new baby. The idea is to help the child verbally express his or her feelings as much as possible. Reading books about having a new sister or brother can be helpful. For those that like to draw, pictures of the new family or of the baby may help a lot. The main goal here is to help the child to express feelings in whatever way they are comfortable. After much prompting, my son decided his biggest concern about his expected new sister was that she would take all of his toys. Parents can also benefit from talking to each other in privacy about their own excitement and concerns. Stereotypically, many moms feel guilty about the new addition and many dads worry about further impingements on their time.
What To Expect When The New Baby Arrives
Pandemonium and chaos! Just kidding. But now that I have your attention have your attention, let us look at how things will be different. Parents will be torn in two directions caring for a newborn and a young child. Your oldest will be struggling with some big changes such as sharing his parents and having to delay his or her needs from being met. It is common for children to regress a bit when a new baby is brought into the house. Your 3 or 4 year old may want to drink from a bottle, wear a diaper, or have more tantrums. Separation anxiety may be revisited. Your child may appear angry or moody for no apparent reason. All of this is quite normal and to be expected. Parents can be helpful by accepting their child’s behavior. Explaining their behavior to them can also be helpful. For regressive behavior, you might say something simple like "It can be fun to be a baby again like [name of sister or brother]." For aggression, tantrums or moodiness, you can simply say that it can be hard having a sibling. Try to mirror and accept your child's feelings by articulating them without shaming them for having them.
A Final Note
Perhaps what can help the transition most is good parent self-care. his can be extremely tricky with multiple children and responsibilities but the more rest and childcare help you can manage the better.