Every child has longings for more time and more closeness with their parents! These longings are a big part of why it's hard to want to go to bed at night, hard to get dressed to go to daycare or to Grandma's, and why it can even be upsetting to see Mommy or Daddy cuddling or talking on the telephone!
Nothing threatens the norm for a child than the arrival of a new sibling. Not surprisingly, this is a time when your older child's world can feel rocked and insecure. And, with the attention that a new baby naturally deserves, your older child can easily feel overlooked and alone.
Every child needs a chance to air his feelings about wanting more, or indeed, wanting all your time and attention. This good, lasting way to help your child has two seemingly opposite steps.
Step One – Making Time
The first is to offer him Special Time during which you pour on your attention, your approval, and your closeness. You allow your child to choose what play he wants to do with you.
You can start Special Time by saying expectantly, “OK, we have fifteen minutes, and I'll play with you any way you want to!” with a lively tone. Then, keep your attention focused on your child. Let the phone ring, and postpone your need to get a cup of tea during this time.
It's surprisingly hard to do for us—because parenting is stressful, we almost always try to teach, try to direct, or try to get little jobs done while we're playing with our children! What Special Time does is to help your child, and you, too, notice that you are paying loving attention and letting him make decisions for awhile.
Step Two – Notice and React
The second important step is to notice when your child longs for exclusive closeness with you.
- Is it when new people are around?
- Is it when you both arrive at day care or at the grandparents' house?
- Is it at bedtime, with pleas for story after story to keep you close?
When a child feels upset about a possible separation, however minor it may be, his feelings of needing you are ready to be released. He needs the reassurance that you love him and the chance to cry as long as possible to drain the reservoir of sadness about you going.
He can best do that with you close, telling him: “I'm going to leave, but I'll come back. I'll always come back to you.” Or, in the case of bedtime: “You're safe here. I'll be in the next room, and I'll see you in the morning.” For more on this listen to our replay of When Your Child Won't Go Anywhere withoutyou – Healing Separation.
If your child feels safe enough, he or she will cry, and the listening you do will help heal that feeling of never having enough of you.
These two steps, repeated over time, help prepare a child for the challenge of a sibling's demands on your attention.
Below, we've broken down some other common struggles parents encounter when raising siblings. In each section, you'll learn some insight behind the behavior struggles and some ideas for how to intervene or prevent it.
Get more ideas to soothe sibling rivalry – especially around sharing – in our free call It's Mine – Diffusing the Sibling Sharing Squabbles.
These resources are also helpful: