BABY - ARE YOU PSYCHOLOGICALLY PREPARED
a baby has an emotional impact on the whole family, regardless
of whether this is your first or your fifth. A new baby changes
the family dynamics. Everybody has to find a new place in the
family. This change can cause a significant amount of distress
for parents and children alike. Siblings often feel displaced
by the new baby and can become attention seeking and defiant.
Parents too feel overwhelmed by the demands of the new family,
having to divide their time, resources and energy into meeting
more demands. Here are some thoughts and ideas to assist with
the transition in the first few weeks and months.
In every change there
are losses and gains. This is true for you and for your baby.
Before your baby was born, he was fed and held and warm and
well in your womb. You provided for all his needs before he
even knew he had them. Now that he has been born, he has to
communicate all of this to you. He has to tell you when he is
hungry, tired, sick, cold, etc. So, for your baby the birth
experience brings gains and losses. There are gains and losses
for you too. There is a tremendous gain in giving birth, where
you can hear your baby breathe and count his fingers and toes.
But with the gain of the birth of your new baby, you might loose
sleep, independence, spontaneity, adult company, intellectual
stimulation, maybe financial security, predictability and control.
This is true for siblings too. With the birth of a new baby,
siblings experience gains and losses. There is a gain in having
a playmate and someone to grow up with for life. But there is
a loss too since now resources have to be shared. This includes
mother’s time, dad’s attention, toys, maybe a room
and even financial resources. How you, as parents, negotiate
these gains and losses will determine how you and your children
deal with the transition. This means that there has to be a
balance between the two. If you are loosing sleep at night,
you need to re-gain a bit of it during the day. If your older
child experiences the new baby as a gain because you are home
from work and he is included in the business of the daily activities
around the baby, then the transition will be easier for him
to digest. If he experiences only the losses when the new baby
arrives because he is excluded from the experience, then the
transition will be difficult for him and his behaviour might
be difficult for you too.
some tips to help siblings cope with the change and the challenge:
your child’s ambivalent feelings about the new baby.
Many children love and hate the new baby at the same time Allow
him to feel angry, sad and happy about the change. These are
normal feelings. Children are allowed to express their feelings,
positive or negative. They are allowed to feel angry or sad
at the birth of the new baby but they are not allowed to hurt
you, the baby or themselves. My experience shows that when you
allow children the opportunity to express their real feelings,
even if they are negative, they are freed up to begin exploring
their positive feelings. Allow a space for their feelings to
be heard and to be respected. But set limits for their inappropriate
2. Some children feel insecure when there is a change
in family dynamics and they become oppositional and defiant.
They need to know where the boundaries lie in order to feel
emotionally safe again. Set limits in a firm and clear manner
without being punitive.
3. Avoid negative attention. When you shout
at your toddler to stop hurting the new baby, you reinforce
his inappropriate behaviour. He learns what to do in order to
get attention – and negative attention is better than
no attention at all. Try to ignore inappropriate behaviour and
give lots of positive attention to behaviors you want to encourage.
4. Allow regression. 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. 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. 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.
5. 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.
6. 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.
7. 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.
8. 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. This helps to balance
the gains and losses. Your child might have lost his place as
only child, or second child, but gained in his place as older
child. Now he is more capable, more competent and more independent.
He has been shifted up the ladder and this is a gain to help
deal with the losses. The shift has the capacity to build his
self-esteem. But if you have high expectations of him to be
responsible around the baby, then being “bigger”
will be a loss rather than a gain!
9. Allow your older child to touch the baby at their
first meeting. Children 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
Just like there are
gains and losses for siblings, so there are for dads too. Lets
take a closer look at your role in the first few weeks and months
and how you can assist with the transition.
Your role is to support your partner so that she can support
the new baby! Think of this as a tripod: dad, mom and
baby. It can only stand on three legs. Your role is critical.
Your role is to nurture your spouse by taking care of her and
not making too many demands on her. This means taking care of
the “outside world” in order to allow her to focus
on the “internal world” of building a new relationship
with the baby in the family. Providing for her financially,
allowing her to rest, helping with some of the practical arrangements
of the other kids helps her to do this. Mothers and babies are
a unit in the first four months of life and it is important
for you to protect that. So, remember, she can’t look
after you right now. She needs you to look after her.
2. She needs your help and your support in her handling
of the baby. She doesn’t have all the answers
and she is not a perfect mother. There are no perfect parents,
or children. Our goal is to be “good enough”, not
perfect. Support her whichever way she feeds the baby, changes
the baby, baths the baby, etc.
3. She’s falling in love with the baby.
She is not falling out of love with you. . In this triangle
of mother, father and baby, you might end up feeling on the
lonely end of the triangle in the early months of babies’
life. This is appropriate and normal. It does not last forever.
Mothers and babies need this space to connect and to bond. When
babies have secured a good attachment, they are free to build
a relationship with you and eventually to others outside of
the family unit. But you could get involved too!
4. Studies show that fathers are getting more involved.
Gone are the days where dads brought home the bacon and moms
fried it up for dinner. You might not be able to breastfeed
but you could bath the baby. It’s a nice opportunity for
mom to have a rest and it gives you time to bond with your baby.
In the first few weeks of babies’ life the physical is
the psychological. When you bath the baby, change his nappy,
hold him, you are building an attachment to him.
5. When you are at work, so is she! Respect
her work in raising another member of your family and another
member of society.
6. Talk, Talk and Talk. Make time to talk to
your partner. Your relationship will take a back seat at this
time. This is normal. But make time to look after your relationship.
A bunch of flowers, a telephone call, a special note can make
all the difference in a long day of feeding, winding, holding
and cleaning. Parenting can be a source of much conflict for
couples. Open up the channels of communication early on in order
to talk through issues.
7. Learn about babies! Information makes the
world of babies more understandable and this helps you to feel
less helpless and more empowered as a parent.