When my younger son, Zachariah, was born, my biggest concern was how my older one, Zain, would react to him. Zain, 3 1/2, has his wild side, and I worried that his baby brother would be in for it.
Happily, a combination of luck, prayer, and intervention seems to have won out--big brother has transformed into mother hen. For the first two months, Zain hung on the baby's every coo, belted out "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" whenever Zach cried, and promised to take his brother to space with him when he becomes an astronaut. By the third month, the novelty had worn off somewhat--half a day could pass without Zain's so much as glancing at little Zach--but Zain definitely continues to enjoy his big-brother status.
The introduction of a new sibling doesn't always go so smoothly. In fact, having a baby suddenly appear out of nowhere is enough to test the mettle of any toddler. "The arrival of a new child is interpreted as 'less for me,'" says Adele Faber, coauthor of Siblings Without Rivalry. "Less lap, less smiles, less time, less attention. It can be very threatening."
Bringing home child number two is usually toughest on kids between 18 months and 3 years of age. Any younger and they're somewhat unaware; any older and they've got other stuff going on besides you. It's not uncommon for toddlers to exhibit aggression, regression, jealousy, ambivalence, or a combination of these. Instead of overreacting to your child's negative behavior, validate his feelings and help him figure out safe ways to express them. "Acknowledge that everyone is getting used to changes in the family," says Lori Gillaspie, R.N., a certified childbirth educator in Indianapolis. It's reassuring when someone listens and understands your feelings. Of course, you should get your older child comfortable with the idea of a little brother or sister long before you bring the new baby home. Follow our three-phase plan to lay the groundwork for a more peaceful sibling relationship right from the start.
What to Expect: As far as your toddler is concerned, this unseen "baby" you keep talking about is just some imaginary friend whom you'll eventually outgrow. Still, she can't help but be affected by your fluctuating emotions and by the changing energy of the house?you're less willing to play on the floor; there's new gear showing up everywhere; and random people keep asking if she's excited.
What to Expect: Your child's routine is thrown off to the nth degree when you leave home and suddenly morph into two people. She hasn't seen you all day, and she may be startled to find you in a strange bed, in a strange gown, with a stranger on your bare chest. She may freak out.
What to Expect: "This very little person is taking up a very big amount of space--physically and emotionally," says Nancy Samalin, author of Loving Each One Best. From your older child's point of view, there's a constant stream of visitors, none of whom are gazing adoringly at her or bringing presents in her size. You're recovering physically while adjusting to sleepless nights, so you've got little energy left for her. And the culprit responsible for this has the nerve to cry--loudly--while Dora is on.
Copyright© 2004. Reprinted with permission from the November 2004 issue of Parents magazine.
All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.