Professional Advice: GroundWork Counseling
The arrival of a new baby brings joy, excitement and many changes to a family. A new baby requires countless preparations and adjustments, as well as a significant amount of attention. Caring for a newborn along with another child can feel overwhelming, especially for parents who are welcoming their second child, as this is their first time juggling the demands and needs of multiple children. It is normal and expected for much of the parent’s energy and focus to now shift from the older sibling to meeting the needs of the highly demanding newborn.
So what does the changing family dynamic mean to the older child who has now become a sibling? Even though children typically enjoy their new role as a big brother or big sister, it is also common for regression, negative behaviors, and attention seeking to arise. Because young children are unable to verbalize their feelings, which could include resentment and jealousy, it is also normal for children to act out in attempt to regain attention. Older children may begin to revert to baby-like behavior, and may possibly regress in potty training if they are toddlers themselves. Tantruming and non-compliance can also indicate that the child is struggling with the change in dynamic.
This is normal.
So what can parents do to make this transition a healthy, positive and supportive experience for the older child now becoming a sibling?
Plan a routine, daily time to engage with the older child; as little as 15 minutes per day of undivided attention can make a world of difference. This could include playing with the child in an activity they choose (dollhouse, puppets, crafts, board game) or simply going for a walk around the neighborhood. These experiences help the child feel attended to, and connected with their parents, while emphasizing their importance within the new family dynamic.
Be careful using common phrases such as “you’re a big girl now” or, “you’re a big brother – you’re not a baby anymore” which can continue to emphasize that the new baby has taken the spot they once occupied. This may leave the child increasingly resentful. Children may also begin to have an interest in their own birth story and have more mom-and-baby themed play. These are all developmentally appropriate ways children process feelings, make sense of the new dynamic, figure out where they fit, and begin to shine in their new role within the family system. Tell them their own birth story if they ask to hear it, and emphasize that they will always be mommy or daddy’s baby.
Some children can benefit from additional professional support. Play-therapy and sand-tray therapy offer age appropriate means for expression which helps children understand the new dynamic, process feelings, and find ways to transition into their new role in a healthy and supported way. Taking time to support your older child during important transition will help children to connect and your family to thrive.