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The Impact of a New Sibling

“The first two years are what I call the attachment phase of a child's life. Your child learns that the world is a warm and secure place. He learns that if he communicates his needs to his parents, they will take care of him  -- feed him when he's hungry, change his diaper when it's wet, hug him when he needs to be held. But there comes a time in early toddlerhood when a child needs to learn the magic word, "wait." Waiting involves delaying gratification and realizing that there are other family members that are as important as he is.

Few experiences initiate this rite of passage in the same way as the birth of a new sibling. The arrival of a baby brother or sister can help your older child understand what it means to wait and to share, and give him a sense of becoming an independent person. It will also reinforce that no matter what happens, you are still there to support, nurture, and love him.” - Dr William Sears (Read more)

Your precious toddler has probably been indulging in all of your attention until this point, and all of a sudden, they are expected to share you!  Although the arrival of a new sibling is great cause for celebration, it is also likely to upset the apple cart somewhat in terms of the family dynamics, especially as far as your toddler is concerned, and it’s important to plan how you will help your toddler adjust. With patience and time, you can help them to view their sibling as a welcome addition rather than a threat.

How might your child react?

Remember that sibling rivalry is a normal reaction to a new baby.  Even if they were excited about having a new sibling before the birth, your toddler may change their mind once the baby comes home and they realise they are going to have to share Mum’s and Dad’s affection now. How your child behaves will depend partially on their temperament. Children who are more flexible and self-contained may adjust more easily, whilst those who are highly sensitive will need more time to adjust.

Whilst attempting to process the situation, your toddler may appear indifferent, shy, apprehensive or withdrawn, even refusing to have anything to do with their sibling.  They may lose interest in activities they once enjoyed, or not want to play with friends or go to preschool.

Naturally, because your newborn requires a lot of your time, your toddler will likely feel jealous, neglected, angry or hostile. Temper tantrums and whingeing are often attempts to gain your attention when he's/she’s feeling left out.  Encourage your child to express their negative, as well as positive, feelings, whilst allowing them some degree of frustration.

Your toddler might even mimic their younger sibling and regress to an infantile state, hoping to win your attention. Don't be surprised if they begin speaking in baby talk, asking for a bottle, sucking their thumb or even have "accidents," even though they’re potty trained. Instead of reprimanding them or ordering them to "act their age," keep talking about all the benefits of being an older child.

They may also start to wake up in the middle of the night and want to get into bed with you.

What can you do to help your child accept a new sibling?

Siblings' early days together are foundational for long-term bonding. Each child is unique and will react in different ways, however, the following ideas may help promote positive sibling interactions:

Give them special jobs - Let your firstborn help out when bathing the baby or dressing them.   If they want to hold their new sibling, make a special effort to accommodate them, either by sharing the baby across your laps, or having them sit in a chair with pillows on either side of them, then prop the baby in their lap...but stay nearby and be alert!  As your infant gets a bit older, encourage your toddler to entertain him/her by making funny faces or noises.  Toddlers love an audience so big grins or giggles from baby can be an incredible ego boost to your toddler.

Ask their advice - Ask your toddler: "Do you think the baby would like to wear the blue shirt or the yellow shirt?" or "Do you want to help me tell a story?".

Watch the baby together - Invite your child to observe the baby with you. Hold them close and ask them to describe what they see. "Look at her hands. They're so little. Can you see her kicking her feet? Can you kick your feet like that?"

Read stories about their new role - Stories that show children enjoying and taking pride in their little siblings present positive role models for your child, andcan help your toddler adjust to their new situation.

Let him tell the story - Make a simple picture book of your family. Ask your toddler what pictures he would like to have in the book or include some of your favourites together, then ask them what words they'd like on each page or add a simple text yourself.

Acknowledge their feelings - Rather than scolding him, try to acknowledge their feelings: "It seems like you're feeling sad right now. Do you want a hug or a story?" Or "It's hard when you want me to do something and I need to help the baby." They may just need to know you understand their feelings and that you can take a minute to listen to and hold them.

Spend a little time alone with them - Spend some time each day with just your toddler, even if it's only a few minutes of drawing or building with blocks.  You don’t even have to do anything, but cuddle them sometimes. This time makes them feel special and reminds them that you're their mommy as well as the baby's.

Let them do their own thing - If your toddler doesn't want to be involved with the new baby, don't push it. A lot of kids cope with the change by "ignoring" their tiny siblings — at least for a while.

Talk for your baby - Parents can take advantage of the toddler's natural fascination with babies by explaining what you imagine the baby is thinking, such as "When Baby grabs you and holds on tight, she is telling you how much she loves you." These can make your toddler laugh and help him see his sibling as a real person.

Double the gifts Some sensitive visitors may bring along a gift for the older child when visiting a new baby. Before the birth of your new baby, it’s a good idea to wrap a few small gifts and reserve them for your toddler when friends lavish gifts on the new baby. You can also let them be the one to unwrap the baby gifts before they "give" the toy to their baby sister. Keep in mind that you are now also encouraging your toddler to have a change in mindset  -- from being a taker to becoming a giver.

Spread the praise - With all the attention heaped on your new baby, your toddler may feel neglected, so it’s important to try and extend any compliments to include your other child/children.  For example when somebody says, "What a beautiful baby," you could add, "Now we have two beautiful children" or "And she has a beautiful big brother!"

Highlight a talent - It helps to recognize and celebrate each child's individuality, including any special talent they may have.  An example of this might be to say, "Jimmy, you are a terrific ball player. When Bobby is bigger, you'll be able to teach him how to hit a ball."  As challenging as it may be, try to end each day on a positive note with the older child, focusing on a positive behaviour displayed during the day, e.g. “you played really quietly today”.

Daddy, daddy, daddy! - It's important that while the older child may feel they have lost some of mom, they get more of dad.

Be consistent - Ensure both parents are consistent in using family rules despite the extenuating circumstances.

Boundaries and routine - Set limits and try to have a daily routine so that your older child feels safe and knows what to expect.

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