How To Encourage Your Child's Connection To A New Baby
You’re thrilled to discover that you’re expecting your second baby but your firstborn will need some preparation for sharing Mum and Dad with their new sibling. Arlene Harris finds out how to encourage your child’s connection to the new arrival.
There’s nothing like the joy of becoming a parent – from the moment your little darling arrives, they are pampered, cosseted and surrounded by love – and don’t they know it.
For the first year or so of their lives, first-born babies are the centre of their parents’ world. Every cry is attended to and quite rightly they never feel insecure or worried about their importance in the world.
But as soon as baby number two comes along, all this begins to change. Their every whim is not met at a moment’s notice and there is a smaller, more helpless being who seems to be getting more attention.
For most parents, ensuring that their eldest child doesn’t feel upstaged by younger siblings is something they start practicing from the moment they realise there is another baby on the way. But sometimes, no matter how much preparation is done and how much involvement the older child has with the new arrival, tiny noses can still be put out of joint. There’s no doubt that making way for a new arrival can be tough.
Undivided attention from the start
Sarah McCarthy has two children – her eldest, Anna (now six) was the centre of her parents’ world for two whole years and the Cork woman will readily admit that her daughter wanted for nothing.
“Emmet and I really spoiled Anna when she was a baby,” says the 34-year-old. “She wouldn’t go to bed alone, so she slept with us most of the time, she was always in our arms and from the beginning we would rush to placate her as soon as she cried.
“But then I got pregnant with Evan and felt very ill right from the beginning so wasn’t able to give as much time to Anna as she was used to and she started to become cranky and clingy.”
Sarah believes that Anna’s feelings towards her brother were marred by the fact that she associated his presence with less attention from her mother – so when he was born, a natural resentment was already brewing.
Refused to bond
“I tried to prepare Anna for the new arrival quite early on in my pregnancy as I had to explain to her why I wasn’t feeling well, but I think that was a mistake,” she admits. “When Evan was born, Anna took an instant dislike to him and coupled with the fact that I was now busy with this tiny, crying bundle, I had also been ill for months and unable to spend as much time with her.
“For the first few months we couldn’t leave Anna alone with her baby brother for a second as she would try to do something to upset him – whether it was pinching him or taking his bottle or once, covering him with a blanket to stop him from crying. It was quite worrying actually.”
The mother-of-two sought help for her eldest child as she was worried about the affect it would have on the siblings’ relationship as they were growing up.
“I asked the public health nurse for advice on how to deal with Anna as not only was it upsetting poor Evan who has always been such a placid child, but her resentment was also changing her personality,” she says.
“The happy-go-lucky little girl we had was replaced by a mean-spirited and rather sly child who would seemingly do anything to upset the little brother who adored her. Our PHN encouraged us to give Anna some special attention and praise her for being so grown up.
“I started asking her to help when it came to bathing, feeding and putting Evan to bed and this seemed to give her a sense of superiority, which allowed her to be more gracious to her brother who in her eyes, was not as smart or mature as she was.
“After a while, the taunting stopped and she actually began to enjoy his company, particularly when he started to laugh at her antics and was able to give her gummy kisses. I think she will always be somewhat jealous of Evan but at least now it is under control and she knows that they are both equally loved, which is really all she was worried about from the start.”
Sibling jealousy is normal
David Carey, child psychologist, agrees and says jealousy is very common for older siblings when a new baby arrives on the scene.
“No king or queen wants to be dethroned so it is only natural for many children to be jealous of the arrival of a new brother or sister,” he says. “Of course it doesn’t always end up in turmoil or distress but some sort of anxiety can usually be expected.
“The more difficult the child’s relationship with his or her parents the more likely there is to be jealously with the arrival of a new baby. Children usually display their insecurity by becoming more attached to their mother or father and asking a lot of questions such as ‘Do you love me?’ or ‘Will you love me as much as the new baby?’.”
The Dublin-based psychologist says jealousy can be minimised with careful preparation and plenty of reassurance from parents.
“The single most important thing you can do to minimise the impact of a new baby’s arrival is to involve your child in the preparations beforehand,” he advises. “This can include helping to decorate the baby’s room or cot, choosing baby clothes and discussing possible names.
“Sometimes children just need reassurance and lots of it. They need special ‘private’ time with Mum or Dad. They need to be hugged more and played with more and this all helps to protect them from feelings of insecurity.”
Be firm when necessary
However sometimes hugs are just not enough and Carey says parents should be firm with the older sibling and not allow them to cause problems within the household.
“Although it doesn’t happen often, jealousy can get out of hand at times,” he says. “And if it does, parents should provide the maximum level of reassurance possible to their older child. Children also need to be taught to use words and not actions when expressing anger and resentment.
“Most children become accustomed to the baby’s arrival quite quickly but if he/she doesn’t adjust in a period of several months, parents should consider looking deeper into the attachment patterns between them and their child.
They should ask themselves:
- Have I been overly critical?
- Have I fallen into the punishment trap?
- Do I fail to encourage my child or praise them when they do well?
“In situations like this, the child has no grounding and feels delicate, insecure and anxious. Sometimes seeking professional consultation can be helpful – so I would advise parents to talk to their GP if they have concerns.”
Got any advice to share? Let us know in the comments.