new arrival
Tricky stuff

Encouraging your child’s connection to the new arrival

You’re thrilled to discover that you’re expecting your second baby but your firstborn will need some preparation for sharing Mum and Dad with their new sibling. Arlene Harris finds out how to encourage your child’s connection to the new arrival.

There’s nothing like the joy of becoming a parent – from the moment your little darling arrives, they are pampered, cosseted and surrounded by love – and don’t they know it.

For the first year or so of their lives, first-born babies are the centre of their parents’ world. Every cry is attended to and quite rightly they never feel insecure or worried about their importance in the world.

But as soon as baby number two comes along, all this begins to change. Their every whim is not met at a moment’s notice and there is a smaller, more helpless being who seems to be getting more attention.

For most parents, ensuring that their eldest child doesn’t feel upstaged by younger siblings is something they start practicing from the moment they realise there is another baby on the way. But sometimes, no matter how much preparation is done and how much involvement the older child has with the new arrival, tiny noses can still be put out of joint. There’s no doubt that making way for a new arrival can be tough.

Undivided attention from the start

Sarah McCarthy has two children – her eldest, Anna (now six) was the centre of her parents’ world for two whole years and the Cork woman will readily admit that her daughter wanted for nothing.

“Emmet and I really spoiled Anna when she was a baby,” says the 34-year-old. “She wouldn’t go to bed alone, so she slept with us most of the time, she was always in our arms and from the beginning we would rush to placate her as soon as she cried.

“But then I got pregnant with Evan and felt very ill right from the beginning so wasn’t able to give as much time to Anna as she was used to and she started to become cranky and clingy.”

Sarah believes that Anna’s feelings towards her brother were marred by the fact that she associated his presence with less attention from her mother – so when he was born, a natural resentment was already brewing.

Refused to bond

“I tried to prepare Anna for the new arrival quite early on in my pregnancy as I had to explain to her why I wasn’t feeling well, but I think that was a mistake,” she admits. “When Evan was born, Anna took an instant dislike to him and coupled with the fact that I was now busy with this tiny, crying bundle, I had also been ill for months and unable to spend as much time with her.

“For the first few months we couldn’t leave Anna alone with her baby brother for a second as she would try to do something to upset him – whether it was pinching him or taking his bottle or once, covering him with a blanket to stop him from crying. It was quite worrying actually.”

The mother-of-two sought help for her eldest child as she was worried about the affect it would have on the siblings’ relationship as they were growing up.

“I asked the public health nurse for advice on how to deal with Anna as not only was it upsetting poor Evan who has always been such a placid child, but her resentment was also changing her personality,” she says.

“The happy-go-lucky little girl we had was replaced by a mean-spirited and rather sly child who would seemingly do anything to upset the little brother who adored her. Our PHN encouraged us to give Anna some special attention and praise her for being so grown up.

Special attention

“I started asking her to help when it came to bathing, feeding and putting Evan to bed and this seemed to give her a sense of superiority, which allowed her to be more gracious to her brother who in her eyes, was not as smart or mature as she was.

“After a while, the taunting stopped and she actually began to enjoy his company, particularly when he started to laugh at her antics and was able to give her gummy kisses. I think she will always be somewhat jealous of Evan but at least now it is under control and she knows that they are both equally loved, which is really all she was worried about from the start.”

Sibling jealousy is normal

David Carey, child psychologist, agrees and says jealousy is very common for older siblings when a new baby arrives on the scene.

“No king or queen wants to be dethroned so it is only natural for many children to be jealous of the arrival of a new brother or sister,” he says. “Of course it doesn’t always end up in turmoil or distress but some sort of anxiety can usually be expected.
“The more difficult the child’s relationship with his or her parents the more likely there is to be jealously with the arrival of a new baby. Children usually display their insecurity by becoming more attached to their mother or father and asking a lot of questions such as ‘Do you love me?’ or ‘Will you love me as much as the new baby?’.”

The Dublin-based psychologist says jealousy can be minimised with careful preparation and plenty of reassurance from parents.

“The single most important thing you can do to minimise the impact of a new baby’s arrival is to involve your child in the preparations beforehand,” he advises. “This can include helping to decorate the baby’s room or cot, choosing baby clothes and discussing possible names.

“Sometimes children just need reassurance and lots of it. They need special ‘private’ time with Mum or Dad. They need to be hugged more and played with more and this all helps to protect them from feelings of insecurity.”

Be firm when necessary

However sometimes hugs are just not enough and Carey says parents should be firm with the older sibling and not allow them to cause problems within the household.

“Although it doesn’t happen often, jealousy can get out of hand at times,” he says. “And if it does, parents should provide the maximum level of reassurance possible to their older child. Children also need to be taught to use words and not actions when expressing anger and resentment.

“Most children become accustomed to the baby’s arrival quite quickly but if he/she doesn’t adjust in a period of several months, parents should consider looking deeper into the attachment patterns between them and their child.

They should ask themselves:

  • Have I been overly critical?
  • Have I fallen into the punishment trap?
  • Do I fail to encourage my child or praise them when they do well?

“In situations like this, the child has no grounding and feels delicate, insecure and anxious. Sometimes seeking professional consultation can be helpful – so I would advise parents to talk to their GP if they have concerns.”

More like this:

5 tips to manage sibling rivalry
Positive behaviour support
Managing a busy family

Ask Allison

Q My sister-in-law and I both work three-day weeks and we help each
other out with child minding on our working days, which up until recently has worked out really well. Between us, our kids are aged between five and nine years – the problem is that it’s now become quite apparent that we have very different parenting styles. I prefer my two daughters (seven and nine) to have a structured day. For example, in my house, we have allocated times for television and iPads, etc. My sister-in-law, however, lets the kids run loose after school – homework is ignored and my kids end up wired after eating sugary treats all afternoon. I am considering looking at after-school childcare for the kids, but I’m worried that this is going to cause a family argument. Is there a diplomatic way that I can ask my sister-in-law to introduce some discipline into her child-minding days? It certainly doesn’t do her two kids any harm when I am minding them in my own house!

A
In a word, no, there is no diplomatic way to do this as it may very likely seem like your saying that your parenting style is better than
hers. As L’Óreal says, ‘now here comes the science bit.’ Dr. Kaylene
Henderson, a child psychiatrist, wrote a very interesting blog about ‘the
science behind the Mummy Wars’. She explains that before she had
children of her own she hadn’t been aware of how parents have a
very specific sense of the right parenting style. She also found that parents could be very definite in defending their chosen parenting style. Dr. Henderson, who describes herself as a curious, scientific, open-minded person, was surprised at how defensive parents could be and, at times, of their judgemental attitude towards each other. She explained the neurology of the Mummy Wars; okay, I’ll need you to bear with me for a second. Warning; I’m about to use some neuro-techie language.

Why do we judge each other?
As we have all had different experiences, this means that we all have very different memories stored in our brains. Most of our memories are ‘explicit’ memories – these are ones that we can recall easily such as important dates that mean something to us; important birthdays, special events or stories of and about our lives.
There is another type of memory called ‘implicit’ memory that plays a
key role in our parenting. This type of memory is the stuff that you do on autopilot. Psychologists call these heuristics or rules of thumb –
such as tying your shoelace, or driving your car (once you have learnt
to do both first!). Otherwise we’d really waste a huge amount of time
pondering over tasks that we have readily available to us. This seems to be where the science bit of our parenting style kicks in. This implicit memory goes all the way back to when you were an infant being parented by your parents. This is when you started the process of storing up how they did it into your memories.
Unless you make a conscious choice and effort to parent differently, what you saw and unconsciously learnt will be your automatic go-to parenting style.

We learn habits
This can really kick into gear when we feel our parenting style is
being mirrored or highlighted by disapproval from another parent. I know the cold sweat you feel when your child decides to make their outstanding bad behaviour performance at, of course, the most public and worst time. The implicit autopilot of how your parents dealt with these outbursts will flow unconsciously from you if you haven’t worked super hard to be aware and consciously change the old habits.
What’s happening for the on-looking parent is that they see you doing something they are used to doing, but you are doing it all wrong. Simply, because that is not how they know how to do it.

Find a way that works
You both have different parenting styles – who is to say which type is correct? You just need to know what works best for your family and that’s the bottom line. The irksome feelings won’t go away. You can talk to your sister-in-law, but I’m adding a caveat that it would be hard not to hurt her feelings. What we’re possibly looking at is that you prefer a more structured form of parenting, whereas your sister-in-law has a more permissive style. I’m not sure the two styles can mix, the mixture is a bit like oil and water.
If a collaborative shared form of parenting style can be agreed upon, then that is great, but our learnt hardwiring may prove difficult to change despite the intent to do so.
Perhaps, your own instinct of changing childcare might work best for you. In terms of making childcare work; the fit is ultimately the most
important aspect as you want a cohesive congruent feeling of the other caregiver to just ‘getting it’, like in any good partnership. Best of luck
with this and I wish you both well.

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ASK JESSICA

Q. I’m would like to start an exercise programme that will benefit my emotional health as much as my physical health, but I don’t know which type of class would be best. Should I consider choosing from yoga, pilates, tai chi, or could you recommend a class, please?

A It’s great that you have decided to get into exercise. The benefits to you are going to be great. You’ll sleep better, have more energy, better skin, reduced stressed, not to mention all the amazing physical benefits of your clothes fitting better, and looking healthy, trim and toned! My advice to you would be to try them all. Even if some don’t offer pay-as-you-go sessions, if you get in touch directly with the instructor, they will almost always let you try it out first to see if it’s for you. All of the above things that you mentioned are great for mental health, so it really will be a personal preference as to which you go for. On top of the classes you mention, all forms of exercise will give you great mental rewards so consider the not so obvious interval training sessions, bootcamp, and circuits too, as you will also feel on top of the world after a class like that.