“I want to throw the baby in the bin!”
There can be such an expectation for our older child to be as thrilled about the new baby as we are. And of course they often aren’t. Their world is changing and they can be really afraid of whether there will be enough love and attention for them.
You’ve probably heard this analogy before, but it’s a great one to remember: Imagine your husband or partner coming home with a younger, prettier wife which he’s really excited about. He keeps on kissing and cuddling her and insists that ‘you’re going to love her and have so much fun together’. Hmm, not too sure I’d be too pleased with the situation!
So we need to allow our children to have their feelings, even if it’s not what we want to hear. The more we can enable them to express what’s really going on for them with us, regardless of how unpleasant it is, the less likely they are to actually take it out on the baby or misbehave in those early days and weeks.
So how can we do that?
Accept that they are going to be worried
This is really the first place in any change. Just realising that they are going be anxious about what the change is going to mean for them is so important. Yes, they are also going to be excited, but there is still going to be a fear of the unknown.
Allow your children to freely express their worries with you
Now, if only they would say their fears in a rational, calm manner!
They might be upset or angry when talking about the new arrival. They might say horrid things, such as my 5 year old saying “I want to throw the baby in the bin”. Don’t worry that they will actually do this, or that they are turning into narcissistic creatures who need to be ‘civilised’. Instead, give them the space to get it all out – either by asking them more about what they’d like to do, or what they are thinking.
Alternatively, instead of talking about the subject directly, you may notice them acting-out in other ways. They may start to become less co-operative, more rigid in wanting certain things, less able to share with their friends, or more wakeful at night. They may be quick to tears and tantrums over seemingly irrelevant things. This is all part of the process. Your toddler may not be very verbal or your child may not be able to articulate exactly what’s going on for them, so their upset will come out in their behaviour.
The more you can set loving limits, be patient and allow them the space to cry and tantrum, the more they can release their fears with you. And the more they can release with you, the calmer and happier they will be.
Bring In Play
This can be sooo hard to do when you’re heavily pregnant, tired and possibly worried yourself about how on earth you’re going to be able to manage everything. But remember that play is a highly effective way for your child (and you!) to release fears, frustrations and anger.
In the example of my 5 year old’s announcement, I could easily have been horrified and insist that she didn’t say such horrible things. Instead of making those feelings and expressions go away, her emotions would have gone inwards and, even though she may not have said that particular thing again, her upset would have leaked out into her everyday behaviour.
Luckily I wasn’t feeling too tired that day(!), I was in a good mood and turned it into a game. So I said “Yes! Let’s throw the baby in the bin. And let’s throw Daddy in the bin too!”
She laughed and immediately said “And throw Skip in the bin” (our dog).
And we then went on, taking it in turns to say who or what else we would throw in the bin. It was fun and it allowed her to release a little of the fears she was carrying. There was no shaming, no teaching, no explaining. Just engagement with where she was at, with the understanding that it’s incredibly beneficial for her to freely express herself with me.
Fall Back In Love Again With Your Older Child
It’s important that we maintain our sense of love for our first child – sometimes we need to actively fall back in love with them again.
Babies are easy to love. And my second baby was a looooong time coming, so I was really, really looking forward to welcoming him into our family. I found the contrast between my snuggly newborn and my vibrant 6 year old, sometimes too much to reconcile. I could have happily stayed in my newborn bubble forever. But my child needed me, possibly more than ever. So I needed to actively feel my love for her again so that I could engage with her again.
I did this by freely expressing myself with some close friends and my Listening Partner. I needed to voice how hard I was finding it to be with my 6 year old, and how much I longed to just hang out with my baby. [CLICK HERE for more info on how an LP can help]
And I did this by having Special Time with her. By setting the timer, I knew I could ‘switch on’ to be fully present with her. And by doing that, I could really engage and delight in her again. I could see her without my newborn baby filter and enjoy her company again. I could really feel my love for her again. Her behaviour improved and it became an upward spiral of getting us back on track again together.
What Have You Done?
There are so many other ways to help an older child adjust – these are just some of the Parenting by Connection / Aware Parenting approaches I took with my daughter. What are the things you have done to help during this time of transition? Would love to see your comments below.
Hand in Hand Free Parenting Call
If you’d like to find out more and ask questions, then join Lyra L’Estrange and I for a Free Parenting Call organised by Hand in Hand Parenting – Monday 22 June 2014 at 12.30pm. Sign up to secure your spot today