When my oldest daughter was almost 2 1/2, she became a big sister. Everything seemed perfect for a little while… but then, the acting out started. So, I needed to act! Luckily, I was already on the path of aware parenting. I found some really powerful solutions for helping create harmony in the new-baby family dynamic. The things I learned how to do with my daughter were not tricky or time consuming either! The following tips are easy to implement and can be big game changers for when a new baby enters the family. The only trick is remember when to do them!
1. Cut down on unnecessary activies.
I made the mistake of NOT doing this after the birth of my second. For some reason, I felt like it was my duty to run my toddler around and keep her busy. Trips to the park can wait. Maybe they can skip swimming for a term and take it up again in a couple months? If they’re school age, maybe just do less extra curricular activities for a little while. Not only is running around not good for you or your new baby, it will run your older kids down too. Remember, your ‘big kids‘ are experiencing a HUGE upheaval in their lives, so staying close to home and doing less, will really help everyone to adjust.
I remember being older, 7 and 10, when my brothers were born and ANXIOUSLY waiting to get home from school because I missed them so much and I worried about them! Of course, it’s nice for the big kids to get out of the house and carry on with some normal activities, but it probably doesn’t need to be as much as you think. And, sometimes, constantly going out because the big kid seems to have cabin fever can be a sign of pent up emotions, and going out will only serve as a distraction… which leads to the next point…
2. Understand that undesirable behaviour is a cry for help.
There’s a good chance it will happen. It might not happen right away, it may take a few months, but eventually, there may be some sort of aggression, or failure to cooperate, or something. The first step is to not see any malicious intention behind this behaviour… and that can be REALLY difficult because their behaviour pushes all of our buttons!! But, if you can, understand that your child is not being naughty and she’s not doing it on purpose (although it can seem this way!). A child who is peaceful inside won’t act out. So, when the older siblings do act out, it’s a signal for us parents to respond. Which brings us to the next point…
3. Expect some tears and embrace them.
Older siblings may say and do things that really annoy you and push all your buttons. And, they may exhibit some of their worst behaviour to date! If they start exhibiting aggression behaviour or refuse to cooperate, it’s almost certain because they have pent up emotions that need to be released. You’ll have to set some loving limits, which means there may be some tears and/or raging.
Contrary to popular belief, if it’s in an appropriate and safe place, it’s actually quite beneficial to let your child cry or rage, as this will help them to release an accumulation of unpleasant feelings associated with brining a new baby into the family. I highly recommend reading the book, ‘Tears and Tantrums‘ by Aletha Solter, she explains so much about the benefit of supported crying and raging. I also wrote a blog post about why I loved my daughter’s tantrums. Accepting and honouring these powerful emotional releases will help with any healing that needs to happen and will help to restore peace.
4. Use powerful play sessions to create connection.
Can you spare 5 minutes a day, or half an hour a week to make a HUGE difference in the way your child behaves? Put away all the stuff that distracts you (phone, TV, etc.). ask someone to hold the baby, or do it while the new baby is sleeping. High energy laughter play, for even a short amount of time, will give you back ten times what you put in. That short, intense connection is what your older child so desperate needs. After these short play sessions, your child may cry! (which is good, go back to #2 on the list), but in the long run, you will end up with a more cooperative, more satisfied child.
I wrote a blog post you can read here, on the type of play I’m talking about. It’s not just sitting around playing cars or dolls (that can be for boring for us, as well as not really as efficient as high energy play). This type of play is high energy, silly nonsense, role reversal and power reversal games! Your kids will love it and once you get into it and you will too (getting the adult to stop and be silly is usually the only hang up).
5. Let them ‘be’ the baby again.
I wouldn’t recommend saying ‘you’re the big boy/girl now‘, although that’s what we often say! It can be so painful for the child to be reminded that they’re no longer the baby. Even if it’s an older child with several younger siblings, adding another one, means the parent’s attention is divided even more. If they want to, and they almost certainly will, in a fun playful way, not in a way that’s making fun of them, you can hold them like a baby, let them ride in the stroller for a bit, or pretend to do other baby things.
My oldest daughter was 2 1/2 when her sister was born, and one of her favourite things was to squeeze into her cloth nappies (she was completely toilet trained, but she just liked wearing them around!). Then, she was 6 1/2 when her brother was born, and she still liked to sit in the stroller and have me tell her how cute she was and she would say ‘goo goo gaa gaa’. Other things you can do are look at photos of when your big kid was a baby, or talk about how he/she used to do the same things etc. This may bring up some emotions in your big kid and that’s good too!
After the addition of a new sibling, things will probably sort themselves out eventually, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some really powerful things you can do in the mean time to help with the transition! Try these tips and hopefully it will be smooth(er) sailing.