Helping children adjust to a new baby.
My daughter was four years old when her new sister arrived.
Needless to say, she had a lot of adjusting to do, since she’d been the only child around our house for quite sometime: four years.
People told me things like, “She won’t even remember what it was like before her sister, when she gets older,” and other similar tales of “she’ll get over it; used to it.”
But I know better.
I have pretty vivid memories from before one years old and extremely vivid memories from two and on—and my daughter displays what’s likely a much better memory than mine.
So when our new baby arrived and my daughter was visibly upset, I ached—and I was disappointed for her, and for me.
However, the baby is now four months old and these two are already showing signs of close sisterhood. (I’m relieved, but I do know that we still have a ways to go.) That said, I’d like to share with you the three top things that have helped our household grow closer, and more naturally loving, during this time of adjustment.
Talk with your child about her feelings.
Ask her about how she’s feeling and then only listen. Children (and people) can take awhile to formulate themselves into words. Don’t try to pretend that you know how she feels. Do tell her how you feel too, in order to open up this channel of communication.
I’ve told my daughter honest things, like how I miss our time together and how I’m aware that the baby takes up much of my time. I’ve told her that big people have difficulty with these types of feelings, much less little people. Remember to never belittle her feelings because of her size. As I’ve already shared, I have strong memories of my own early childhood—emotions included—and, if anything, kids don’t possess the tools that grown-ups do to healthfully cope.
Give her the tools.
A favorite thing that my daughter and I do together is “belly breathing.”
2. Don’t force contact.
One of the biggest mistakes that I witness is parents pushing their children to interact.
For one, teaching children to interact when they don’t want to is essentially teaching them to not go with their instincts. I never, for example, make my daughter give people kisses or hugs, whether it be myself or our new baby.
So you want the perfect photo? Well then wait with a camera close by for that interaction when it arrives in its own time. I am not a psychologist or a physician, but I do believe fully in this.
I did not force my oldest daughter to hug or kiss or even sit with the baby (even though people asked repeatedly for pictures displaying things like this), but now they cuddle nearly all the time. Just today, my older daughter didn’t even want the baby to go down for her nap because she wanted to kiss her some more.
It will happen—and it will be so much better when it happens on its on. Give it time and space.
3. Have dates with older children.
This is, I think, one of the most important things.
Keep in mind that, especially if you’re a nursing mother like I am, then the baby is with you pretty much non-stop. Yes, it’s important to get back to having a relationship with your spouse, but it’s also crucial to set up special dates for older children.
One day, I had my parents over and left the baby with them and took my daughter out for cupcakes and to the toy store for some stickers and art supplies. We were gone, including driving time, for no longer than an hour—and she and I both had an amazing experience.
The date before that was our first one, and I took my little girl to get new shoes—she wanted to sleep in them and she’s worn them every day since—because, yes, these shoes are cool, but, more, they remind her of her mommy’s love.
Again, I’m not a professional counselor, and I honestly don’t even like parental advice. Why? Because the best professional for your child is you.
We know our kids better than anyone.
And the above offerings aren’t meant to suggest that we should ignore the new baby.
While I realize completely that a new baby, physically well cared for, isn’t necessarily ignored, it’s important to remember that even new babies need more than diaper changes and feedings. They need eye contact and belly nuzzles and hand holding and hugs.
It’s important, also, that my older child sees me nurturing the new baby, so that she sees a shining example of how to caress and care for her.
So, I trusted my gut to help me handle this extremely important situation, of bringing a new baby into our family while simultaneously protecting my older daughter’s feelings—and I’m so grateful.
Because every day we’re moving closer and closer to that tight-knit family I had envisioned.