Guest Blogger: Sarah Rosensweet
When we add to our families, part of the reason is usually to give the gift of a sibling to our older child. When we find out our child doesn’t see it that way (at least at first!), it can not only be disappointing but make things at home feel very difficult. The great news is that there is a lot you can do to ease the transition- if you can be empathetic and see it from your older child’s point of view.
This is very hard for me. I will feel replaced.
Chances are you are having another baby because you love your child so much and want to give them the gift of a sibling.
Picture this: Your partner comes home one day and says, “Darling! Guess what? I love you so much I’ve decided to get another wife/husband for us. Aren’t you so happy?” Plus the new partner gets to wear all your clothes, use whatever they want of yours, and everywhere you go people admire the new partner and say how lucky you are. (I borrowed this analogy from the book Siblings Without Rivalry.)
You might feel really sad and jealous. You might even feel replaced. While most older children are excited to have a sibling, they are also grieving.
Every older child feels replaced and mourns the loss of your full attention. They might even feel there is something wrong with them if you wanted to get a new baby.
Expect, recognize, accept your child’s mixed feelings. They love the baby AND they wish the baby were never born. That’s okay! You can help.
I need help processing my feelings.
You can help your child process their feelings directly by talking about their mixed feelings or indirectly through lots of tears over seemingly unrelated upsets.
Your child might be old enough to understand and talk about their feelings. 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.”
Make room for whatever emotional response your child has and welcome it and hold the space for your child. This is how they will get through to the other side. Welcoming feelings helps your child not only process these difficult emotions but builds resilience.
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.
Be empathetic when they are upset over seemingly ridiculous things and encourage the tears.
This is good! Children mostly process their feelings through crying. Your child is processing all the fears of being replaced and the grief of having to share you.
I’m doing the best I can.
Your child wants to be good. They want to be in the glow of your warm approval. If your child is being difficult, it’s because they actually can’t manage to be better right now. Little children are terrible at figuring out how to get their needs met.
If your child could figure out how to get your attention by saying, “Mama, I feel really bad. I need some attention,” they would. Instead, they dump their milk in your potted plant.
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.
I might regress.
Your child might regress. Regression is a response to being overwhelmed. Don’t worry. Your child will get back to where they were before! Don’t make a big deal about it. Support your child however you can in this difficult time. Even if it means helping with things you know they can do themselves.
I still want to be the baby.
One of the best things you can do to support your child is to revisit their baby years. Show them pictures and tell stories from when they were a baby.
You can even pretend they are a baby again and “feed” them and rock them and sing them baby songs. I have lots of pictures of my 3YO son swaddled with a soother in his mouth after his sister was born. Call them “Baby [Your Child’s Name]” and really get into it. Even older children love this.
Don’t stress “you’re a big kid now” unless you are absolutely sure it’s helpful. Baby your child to help make them feel nurtured and loved (still).
I need one on one time with you.
Make sure you are still having one-on-one time with your older child. It can be tempting to have your partner or others take care of your older child while you tend to the baby. Your older child still needs you.
Put Special Time on your to-do list. 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!)
When you consider this transition from your older child’s point of view and bring as much empathy as you can muster for how hard this transition is-you will be making it easier already!
Sarah Rosensweet is a peaceful parenting coach. She lives in Toronto with her husband and three big kids (ages 10, 13, and 16). Sarah helps parents become the parents they want to be with a non-punitive, connection-based approach that that feels good and works. Sarah is certified by Dr. Laura Markham as an Aha! Peaceful Parenting Coach. Enjoy your kids again! Find her at sarahrosensweet.com or follow her on Facebook.
Her upcoming workshops include Introducing a New Baby and Tame Tantrums.