The addition of a new baby into a family is always a big change: but a second, or third baby can be a particularly rocky transition for the child that used to be ‘the baby’.
The older child, very often a toddler - has just had their world ROCKED but doesn’t have the words to wrap around how they are feeling.
Parents are adjusting as well. There is increased sleep deprivation, physical healing, increased pressure on relationships, and often with one parent needing to take time off to care for the baby there is increased financial pressure as well.
Despite all of this pressure every single parent I meet though my work is so focussed on helping their older child with the adjustment, the number one question they want to know is: ‘how can I make sure my older child doesn’t feel left out?
The answers lie in connection, boundaries and being with big feelings. Here are my top five tips:
Generally in the lead up to a new baby parents start saying things like “you are you going to have a fantastic new friend!” (This is at best an exaggeration as we know babies are not much fun for the first year especially for toddlers). Or we might say “You are going to be such a good big sister” or “You are such a BIG boy now”.
Many parents also read books about new babies, which is great – if your child is interested. If they are not interested and we persist with this talk anyway, kids really only process pressure.
“Something big is happening and mum and dad seem kinda stressed about it”…..
This all comes from love of course. We know we love our kids and often tell them we love them daily, but it is interesting to know that it is more effective for toddlers, to show them in ways that are more physical than verbal. Because of the way they process information showing them is more powerful than telling.
When we increase physical connections, special time and play before and after a new baby, our children don’t need to seek connection with us as much as they feel safe and secure in our love for them.
Ways to make your child feel secure and loved though connection and play:
It can be tempting to allow changes to the routine or rules in the lead up to or after a new baby.
It makes sense. We want our kids to get along and there is a temptation to compensate for the changes in the house with easing the rules or not saying no. We do this because we have empathy for what our child is going though. It comes from love, but that’s not how it feels for our child. It feels scary and they are wondering “who is at the wheel here”?
Boundaries, and routines, are the guardrails that keep our child feeling safe and secure though any transition...so sticking to boundaries really helps. Boundaries are also the secret to juggling the demands and needs of two little people at once.
The key to boundaries;
One of the reasons parents can hesitate to set boundaries is that doing so can make our kids cry. This is hard for parents who are trying to make everything ok for their kids. The vital part of boundaries is knowing that the feelings that follow need to be welcomed, even if the behaviour needs to stop.
When we show empathy and help them wrap words around their big feelings. “It can be really hard to be a big sister sometimes,” or, “I know, you really wanted that ice cream,” can really help our child process all the big emotions that come with being a big brother or sister.
Don’t be afraid to spot the underlying feelings your child may be having and help them name it. You may spot your child looking really worried about holding the baby. By naming that “you’re not sure about holding the baby, you are worried and that’s ok, you’ve never done this before, we can hold her together” this response as opposed to “don’t worry…. You LOVE your new baby” allows our child to know the emotions they are having are valid and safe to express.
Often we’ve been picturing that first meeting for 9 long months. We have such high hopes that these two kids will be friends. We so want it to go well but our focus is on them…. Not us and the older child.
Most children at two or three years old are not very concerned with the baby. They know that’s what they are there to do, but really, the centre of their universe is their parents.
Don’t get me wrong, some children will be absolutely bursting to meet their new sibling, but usually once they have examined tiny fingers and toes they may look up and seek to connect with mum and dad. It helps to be ready for this look and meet it with open arms and say “I have missed you so much, I am so happy to see you again!”
How to meet your child where they are at in the first meeting:
It is impossible to meet all of our kids’ needs all of the time. Often we will be feeding or changing a nappy and our toddler will need to wait. Sometimes we are dealing with a scraped knee so the baby will need to wait for a cuddle or a feed. This is the juggle of two or more kids.
This takes time to adjust to and when parents are moving from a situation where they outnumbered the kids to one where the kids outnumber them – the juggle is real and can be disheartening if we expect to still be able to meet all needs all of the time.
Most of us need reminding that good enough (not perfect) parenting is what our kids really need.
Know that if it doesn’t look or feel close to perfect that is so normal. You are all adjusting and it does take time. It really does get easier, day by day, week by week. One day at a time.
And the most magic moment of all? For me it was the moment my older child made the baby laugh. He was in the bouncer at around 12 weeks and my eldest couldn’t believe that he now had an audience. He looked at me with the hugest smile and told me proudly “I made the baby laugh!!!” Talk about heart bursting stuff.
The relationship between our kids unfolds over time. When we are able to meet our older children’s need to feel seen, safe and secure it unfolds, as it should, in time.
Obstetric Social Worker and Parent Educator at the Mater hospital in Sydney, Circle of Security International facilitator for numerous organisations, and also a mother to four beautiful boys Genevieve is passionate about helping families in Sydney and beyond adapt to the modern parenting world and all its challenges and not only survive but thrive.
Genevieve also works privately with clients worldwide, and has just launched an online course ‘And Then There Were Two’ – Helping parents navigate the transition from one child to two.
These comprehensive, learn at your own pace courses give you access at any time to videos, audios and documents that covers the core areas of development when reaching these milestone moments as a parent or grandparent.
Join our waitlist.