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Adhd or just naughty
Good kids - bad behaviour
Bringing home a sibling
Children and change
Children and play - your baby
Children and TV - How much is too much?
Children and TV - How much is too much? (Winter)
Effects of PND on kids benefits
New baby... are you psychologically prepared
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BRINGING HOME A SIBLING

Daniel was a strong willed child. His parents were worried about how he’d react to the birth of a new sibling. So, Daniel’s parents prepared him carefully. He had learnt all about the coming event. When the baby was born, he knew that he had a beautiful baby brother, and that his mom and brother were coming home in two more sleeps.

When his mom, dad and night nurse came home from the clinic, everyone was ready for trouble. But Daniel surprised them all. He was cooperative, and even showed slight interest in the new baby. He was quite happy and even accepting of the fuss around the new arrival.

Daniel’s parents were delighted. They congratulated each other on having prepared him so well. At the end of the week, the night nurse was preparing to leave. With her bag packed, she said goodbye to Daniel and headed for the door. Little Daniel raced after her. “Hey Lady”, he called, “you forgot your baby”.

Bringing home a sibling is anxiety provoking for parents and children alike. Regardless of whether this is your second or your fifth child, there is a shift in family dynamics for everybody. Parents have to cope with meeting more demands, but without more time, more financial resources or more emotional support. This can be stressful. Children have to learn to be on the periphery of relationships at times, rather than at the center. So if you are feeding the baby and Johnny wants juice, then Johnny has to learn to wait for his needs to be met and mothers often feels very stressed about balancing the demands of both their children. So you might be wondering, why do we do this to ourselves and to our children? What’s the benefit of having more? Well, there are many benefits or gains. But there are many losses too. Balancing the gains and the losses is the key to dealing with the transition – for parents and children alike.

Giving children the opportunity to be on the periphery of relationships, and survive is giving them a healthy lesson in life. This is an important gain. When children are able to see that two friends are playing in the sandpit and that they can join in by offering a bucket of sand, then they learn that they can join a group happily and be included as the third party. When they are unable to do this, they exclude one child in order to play with the other and often cause social difficulties both for themselves and for others. In other words, children cannot always be at the center of your and their world. They learn this also when mom and dad go out and leave them at home – in capable hands of course. They learn that they can survive on the periphery of their parents’ relationship. When they see that mom and dad have a relationship of their own and they are excluded. This builds emotional maturity. Children often try to split mom and dad and protest as they head for the door on an evening out. But it is an emotional struggle that children have to loose. If they split their parents so that they always have one parent all to themselves, then they never learn how to survive on the periphery of relationships and this can interfere with social relationships later on. Of course this is a process of learning that happens through repeated experience. It is also age related, in that babies in the first year do need to be at the center of their parent’s world. And of course, it is important to allow children an experience of being at the center throughout their childhood – but as children grow up it is not only appropriate, but desirable for them to learn that they can’t have all their needs met as and when they want them. So this is one gain or benefit to bringing home a sibling.

There are many other gains parents have mentioned. One parent said that bringing home a sibling “means giving my daughter a companion for life”. Another parent said that “my son got pushed up the ladder in the family system and this improved his self esteem”.

But of course there are also losses. One parent said: “I feels sad at the loss of closeness with my older son even though I know its only temporary”. Another parent said that she feels so guilty about “de-throning” her child. Another mother worried about how she was going to love another child as much as her first. For both parents and children there are losses and gains. This is the process of life, and the process of change. In fact in every gain there is a loss and in every loss there is a gain. When you became a parent there were tremendous losses – of predictability, spontaneity, control, intellectual stimulation, punctuality and sleep (we all know that one!). But the gains are immeasurable – that first smile, that first step …

Our role as parents is to make space for these ambivalent feelings, which arise as a result of both the gains and the losses. We need to allow our children to feel both happy and sad at the birth of a sibling – because there is a loss and a gain attached to the experience. I remember when my third baby was born, my four-year-old daughter loved to hug her until she cried. Her feelings of love and hate were all tied up in one single response and in one little body.

In preschool children sad and angry feelings are often expressed through action rather than words. You might notice temper tantrums, aggression, bed-wetting, baby talk, acting like a baby, clingy behaviour, and a general irritable mood. One parent said “my son is moody: one minute he’s happy and the next he’s moaning”. Another parent said, “ My daughter wants a bottle. She finished with bottles over a year ago”. Basically, what you notice is regression. This is appropriate in this context. Your child regresses and becomes more needy and more dependent. He is communicating an important message: do I have to be a baby in order to get the same level of care and attention? Many parents, knowingly or unknowingly, have expectations on older children to be older. This causes distress for you child because he might feel ambivalent about the losses and gains of growing up. How you deal with his regression is important in helping him adjust to the change in family dynamics. Here are some suggestions:

1. Allow him to regress. My experience shows that those parents who play along with their child and “baby” him for a little while have a greater chance of encouraging autonomy and independence than those parents who impose it. Don’t say “You’re not a baby, you’re a big boy now”. Remember he might want to be a baby for a while and that’s O.K. If you baby him for a while his emotional need will be met and he will be able to move forward – towards more age appropriate behaviour.

2. Acknowledge your child’s feelings by giving them a name, “I can see you are very sad”. Then reflect his unfulfilled desire “ … because you really wanted to sit on mommy’s lap”. Respect his feelings and wishes “…I do understand”. And then set the limits and give a choice “but mommy’s tummy is sore right now. You can sit next to me on this side or on this side, which would you prefer?” When you give children a choice, you empower them, which assists with their helpless feelings when they can’t get what they want.

3. Set limits when necessary. Don’t be afraid to discipline during this time, provided you do so in a firm but kind way. Children feel safe within well-defined boundaries. The change in family dynamics might cause feelings of insecurity and asserting the same limits and boundaries helps children to feel more secure and to settle in to the new family system.

4. Begin the process of bonding in uterus. Let your child see your tummy grow. As the baby makes space in your body, allow the baby to make space in your lives. It always amazes me to see the pressure placed on mothers to be small and neat during pregnancy and to be in their jeans a week after birth. Babies take up space in our bodies because they take up space in our lives. Another way to do this is to involve your older child if he would lie to be involved. One parent said that her son wasn’t interested in the baby at all. This is also OK. Allow your child to lead in this regard.

5. Avoid negative attention. Here’s a typical example: Jesse loves pulling out the baby’s dummy. She knows that as soon as she does this the baby cries and all the adults come running. She is getting negative attention. The more you shout at her, the more powerful she feels and the more she continues her inappropriate behaviour. So what can you do? Ignore her. But not the baby, or course. Pick up the baby and say to him “its hard to be with Jesse when she takes your dummy out so she cant be with you at all but we can try again another day” and then remove him from the situation.

6. Give up the expectation to be fully available for all your children all the time. Your aim is to be a “good enough” parent (Dr Winnicott) not a perfect one. Just like there are no perfect children, so there are no perfect parents. It is appropriate for your children to learn that there are limits to your resources, your patience, your time and your attention.

7. Show your children that you love them very much. Children don’t always trust a verbal message. It might not be enough to tell your son you love him very much. You might have to hug him, read to him, and spend some special time with him or whatever you do to show him how much he means to you.

There are no definitive ways to bring home a sibling and cope with the change. What I have learnt is that the only predictable thing about children is that they are unpredictable. What you expect might not happen and what might happen might not be what you expect.


FOR THE SIDE BAR ON AGE GAPS

The best time to have a baby is when you feel ready to have one. You might say: “but am I ever ready?” and then I would answer, “well is there a best time to have a baby?” Developmental psychologists say that the best age gap is around three years. Why? Because children of three have a better sense of self and are beginning to explore relationships outside the one with mother. This means that they are ready to relinquish their attachment to their primary care giver a bit. This might free you up a little to attend to another baby. My experience shows that a close age gap is hard on parents and they are often left feeling frazzled. A frazzle, exhausted, and stressed parent is less patient and less emotionally available. Whatever the gap, it is important to look after your own emotional needs as an adult, a couple and a wife.


January 2004
Extra Information: Practical Tips for bringing home a sibling

1. Limit the amount of change your older child is exposed to. Starting a new school, moving to a new room and bringing home a new baby are too much for a toddler to manage.

2. Involve your older child in the day-to-day activities of the new baby. Let him choose which nappy to use even if all the nappies are the same.

3. Allow your older child to touch the baby at their first meeting. Childrne are tactile human beings and this helps to create a positive first experience. Babies have an automatic grasping reflex. Ask your older child to put his finger in the babies’ hand and the baby will grasp it. This creates a special moment for children, parents and babies.


What other parents have suggested:

1. I had a whole bag of small toys and games in the cupboard for those moments when I didn’t know what to do with my older child. This gave him something to do and it gave me 5 minutes to attend to my baby.

2. I fed my baby while my three year old listened to story tapes. This way, he did not feel pushed out of the room, but he was occupied enough to let me feed the baby in peace.

3. I gave my daughter a baby doll so she could feed her own baby at the same time at I fed the baby. She enjoyed this very much.

4. I asked for help! I needed an extra pair of hands during “happy hour” at 5pm. My sister, husband and mother took turns to help me through these difficult days – which passed after 6 weeks.

5. My daughter needed to know that she was important. I made time to play with her alone, at home, with no TV, no interruptions or telephone calls for 45 minutes a day. I saw a changed child in 4 days!

 
 
 
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