I remember the day my 3- and 4-year-old came to meet their new sister at the hospital. They had entered the room so cautiously, but that all changed the moment they saw her. They excitedly ran over to the bed — eager to see their baby, as they called her. Now that she’s been home with us for a few weeks, I’ve loved seeing their bond grow and develop. What hasn’t been so great, though, is the clear behavior regressions in my toddlers.
There has been a lot of acting out towards me and their father. Also, if I’m carrying their sister, they want me to carry them too. At the exact same time. Or if I’m nursing, they will bring their plates of food over, to sit in my lap so that I can feed them. While I know this is normal, it’s been challenging to maneuver.
“Bringing a baby home is new,” says Chelsea Kunde, Licensed Associate Marriage and Family Therapist, and Owner of Building Blocks Az. “Many things change and this can cause stress. Typically, in younger children, they do not understand these changes or what their new roles mean so we see them acting out in different ways.”
She also adds that sometimes the way this stress manifests itself is in what we call “regression,” i.e. potty training issues and sleeping issues. “They can be reaching for areas in their life they can control.”
Kunde suggests remembering that any reaction is an “okay” reaction. “Children often have a way of expressing how they feel emotionally in a physical way. Just know this can be normal. We can normalize the behavior, but we don’t have to give in. We can validate their feelings without saying a behavior is okay.”
Here’s an example of how to share your attention, validate their feelings, and give the older child some special time: “I know sharing my attention is hard with the new baby. Once the baby takes a nap, let’s play!”
Talk about what will change and what will stay the same. Also, talk about the wonderful things about having a baby and the things that can be annoying. For instance, with my daughter, I would empathize with how she was feeling about feeding time, shares Kunde. I had real conversations with her about the frustration of having to feed her sister so often in the beginning. We would also have conversations about how fun it was for her to help me change her sister’s diaper. Balance the real emotions. They are feeling it all, as are we.
Things like grabbing a diaper, helping to get the wipes, or helping to burp the baby [are great ways to include an older sibling].
Good boundaries and expectations are key in this change. For example, telling your older child: “You may hold the baby when an adult says it’s okay, is watching, and you are sitting on a couch. You may not hold the baby when you are walking or if an adult doesn’t say you can.”
According to Kunde, tantrums will happen. “Clinically, I have often seen this happen where the tantrums or changes in behaviors almost seem delayed or unrelated to the baby. But most likely it is related.” She suggests:
“I see this a lot when a new baby comes home,” says Kunde. “I cannot stress enough how important consistency and routine are.” Try to:
Prepare for the “worst” but hope for the best! And enjoy!
Story photos provided by author.
This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.