"Some parents recognize their own ambivalence about having another child. They say that now and then, they feel they're betraying their firstborn or they wonder if they can handle raising another child. Just knowing those feelings are natural and normal can help us find healthy ways to manage them."

A New Baby

To a firstborn child, a family means three people -- "mommy, daddy, me." When a new baby comes and starts getting a great deal of attention, it may still seem to the older child that the family is a threesome, but now it's "mommy, daddy, and that new baby." The "old baby" feels pushed out of the family triangle.

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It’s Hard to Share

Whether a baby is born into a family or adopted, there are many changes and many different feelings when the new child arrives. It's only natural that the children who are already there feel some resentment. They may even be angry with their parents and say things like, "Take the baby back!" or, "I hate you!" At any age, it's hard to share the people we love.

Parents sometimes tell me, "Oh, there's no jealousy. My child loves the baby." Well, love can be mixed with jealousy. Sometimes children are afraid that their parents might stop loving them if they show any "negative" feelings. What a relief it can be for a child to know that it's all right to be angry, sad, upset or grumpy – all the while hearing that it's not all right to hurt the baby or anyone else. Our children (of all ages) need to hear that we love them even when they’re experiencing difficult feelings.

Acting Like a Baby

Sometimes when there's a new baby in the family, the older child will seem to go backward in development -- starting again to thumb-suck, bed-wet, cry a lot or become extra-clinging. After all, those are the sorts of things babies do, and babies seem to get all the attention.

How much easier it would be if our children could say to us, "I'm really mad that you've brought home another baby. Wasn't I good enough for you? It feels like no one pays any attention to me any more!" But young children aren't able to use words to tell us how they’re feeling. They can only feel it and then try to find some way to let those feeling out. Their anger and frustration may come out in ways that may not seem to have anything directly to do with the new baby. However, it's helpful to remember that when there are noticeable behavior changes in older children, just after a baby's birth, we can be fairly sure that those changes have something to do with the new brother or sister's arrival.

Parents’ Ambivalent Feelings

Some parents recognize their own ambivalence about having another child. They say that now and then, they feel they're betraying their firstborn or they wonder if they can handle raising another child. Just knowing those feelings are natural and normal can help us find healthy ways to manage them.

Most families discover that it can take several months for an older child to get used to the new baby. Hugs and loving words can go a long way in helping your older child through the hard times. In the long run, with all the ups and downs of family life, brothers and sisters often develop an extra special relationship that enriches each of them throughout their lives.

Take Care of Yourself

There's so much to do in caring for all the usual needs of the family, and now there’s a new baby! When you're exhausted and you don't feel your normal self physically (or hormonally), it's hard to be kind and patient, and it can hurt your feelings when your older child gets angry at the new baby or at you. Your own rest is one of the most important things to help you cope, so when your older child is sleeping, do all you can to get some rest yourself. Hopefully, you’re able to ask for help from relatives and friends when you need it. It takes a lot of inner strength to say that you need help. People who love you are delighted when you can, and do.

Before the Baby Arrives:

  • It's probably a good idea to wait as long as you can to tell your child about the new baby. Young children don't understand time the way adults do, and it's hard for them to wait for events long in the future.
  • Let your child know what to expect from newborns: they sleep a lot, they cry, they can't play games or talk, and grownups have to do almost everything for them. If you know of another family with a new baby, you might want to make a short visit so your child can see firsthand what an infant can and cannot do. "Sibling classes" available at hospitals for big brothers and sisters, can be helpful, too.

arriving home:

  • Let someone else carry the baby into the house so you can give your full attention to your older child. Some parents are surprised when they get a "cold shoulder" or an angry "hello." That's usually a child's way of saying, "I love you so much. I'm mad at you for leaving me and for loving another baby."
  • Spend time with your older child. Set aside "just you and me" times, like when the baby is sleeping. When children know they can count on one-on-one time somewhere during the day, they may be able to manage better through the other times. Moments when you're listening carefully -- even times when you're doing something simple like zipping up your child's jacket -- can say, "I still love you, no matter what."
  • Let your child hear, "You have a special place in our family, and the baby does, too." That helps children know that no one will ever take their place. In fact, your firstborn child might feel especially proud to know he or she was the one who made you a "parent" in the first place.
  • Let your child know it's okay to be angry or upset and grumpy about the new baby, but it's never okay to hurt the baby. It's very scary for children to think they might hurt the baby. In general, young children can't be trusted with the new baby without an adult's supervision. It is absolutely essential for them to know that you will not let them hurt the baby, just as you will not let anyone ever hurt them.
  • Encourage your child to find healthy ways to express feelings about the baby. An appropriate, wonderful gift for an older child is a realistic-looking infant baby doll. Whether your child is a boy or girl, the doll can encourage some helpful play about being a caring mother or father. Don't be surprised if there's some spanking or rough play with the doll. You might also see a lot of different feelings coming out in drawings, puppet play, or make-believe play. These are healthy ways to say how they feel – ways that don’t hurt the baby or anyone else.
  • Help your child feel proud of being the older one. Show your appreciation for all the things he or she cando that the baby can't yet do -- like going for a walk, sharing treats, playing with toys, and using words to say what he or she is thinking, doing and feeling.
  • Involve your child in caring for the baby. Encourage your child to sing or talk to the baby, get the diapers, and play peek-a-boo. Point out times when the baby stopped crying or laughed because of something your older child did. When children are given ways to help with the baby, they feel more grownup, needed and special.

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