One of the most traumatic events in your child’s life can be the arrival of a new baby. For a toddler, adapting to a new baby in the house can be a very stressful experience. Being prepared for what lies ahead will make the transition go more smoother.
Why does it happen?
Between the ages of 18 months and three and a half years, a child is just beginning to establish her individual identity by collecting bits and pieces of information about herself. During this time she is also beginning to realise that she is a separate individual from her parents, this knowledge makes her feel insecure and vulnerable and she becomes very possessive about her own things. So, the arrival of a sibling at this stage can seem to be exceptionally threatening. When someone invades our space it is a normal reaction to react with some concern. This is exactly what the arrival of a new baby makes your toddler feel. She will feel displaced and threatened by the attention and physical contact the new baby gets from his mother. Her parents seem to no longer belong exclusively to her, and moreover she has to abandon the role of the baby of the family.
What about jealous reactions?
Any jealous reactions may be dormant until the new baby is old enough to steal the attention of people. At first there may not be much rivalry. Children younger than 20 months actually tolerate a newborn intruder much better than those over two years of age, because they are not aware of being displaced. Jealous reactions seem more intense in first-born children than in others, probably because they have the most to lose. They might revert to increased thumbsucking, more than the usual amount of babyish chatter, cranky demanding behaviour, or excessive clinging.
How to deal with them?
You may not be able to totally eliminate possessiveness or jealousy. It is asserted by psychologists that coping with these emotions helps a child mature. Parents can only diffuse the intensity of these emotions through proper handling.
Before the baby comes:
Even if your toddler isn’t saying much and you are not really sure what she understands, it is important to fill her in. Knowing what to expect will ease the transition once the baby actually arrives. About three or four months before the baby is due, it would be good to tell your child as simply and truthfully as possible about the new birth. Describe the changes that will take place in your household once the baby arrives and how they may affect her. Assure her that none of this will affect her.
Let your child help:
Although they may not always seem so, toddlers generally are interested in their new brothers or sisters. Take advantage of that curiosity by letting your child participate in the baby’s care. It would be wise not to leave the baby alone with her just yet. Even a simple chitchat about what you are doing when bathing the baby or cleaning him, would help your older child feel involved. Emphasise your toddler’s big-sister status by putting her in charge of telling you if she hears the baby cry.
According to experts, at around one month of age, infants begin to recognise their sibling, which may help a child accept the little newcomer. Encourage your toddler to sing and talk to the baby, and see how the baby’s face lights up.
Provide your valuable time:
Rather than scolding her for any feelings of jealousy, acknowledge her feelings so she knows you understand her point of view. Take some time each day to do something just with her, even if it is a few minutes. If your baby goes to sleep earlier than your older child, designate an hour or two as ‘big child time’.
What preparations are needed?
Young children, who feel jealous commonly act on these feelings. Do not be surprised if your toddler hits or throws something at her new sibling. This is normal though not easy to witness. When you are alone with her, encourage her to express these feelings. Tell her its okay to feel like that, but acting on those feelings is not okay. It is necessary to intervene immediately, if she is aggressive, but not to physically punish or humiliate her.
Toddlers often regress when a new baby comes into the house. Regressing in behaviour and speech a bit is one way of coping. You may suddenly see your child talking like a baby. Children aren’t too sophisticated in asking what they really need, when they need attention, they often represent this in their behaviour. Parents should just recognise this need for attention. They should respond to it somewhat, but also try to encourage more age-appropriate behaviour through praise and attention when the child acts her age.
Is it necessary to give it time?
Do not expect your older child to be happy about the arrival of a baby sister or brother. Just give your toddler as much love, undivided attention and understanding as it takes to make it through the first few months. Make sure your expectations of your toddler do not suddenly exceed reasonable levels. You cannot expect her to grow up suddenly because an infant has arrived. The contrast between her abilities and the helplessness of a new baby puts a lot of pressure on her to abandon her immaturity. If she reverts to babyish behaviour, additional hugs and kisses are more likely to improve the situation than reprimands.