Helping Children Adapt to The Arrival of A Sibling — ChildTherapyToys
Helping Children Adapt to The Arrival of A Sibling

Helping Children Adapt to The Arrival of A Sibling

By Amy Fletcher, Baby Schooling 

While psychologists advise parents to wait four years between children this seldom happens. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) reports that 17.5% of parents have a 13 to 24 month age gap between their first two children, while 17.2% have a 25 to 36 month age gap. The smaller the gap the more likely it is that challenges will be experienced. Regardless of the age in which a sibling arrives, children will experience a range of emotions, some of which they will never have felt before. Verbal children, with a good feelings word vocabulary may have an easier time. Dozens of books have been written that can help children expand their vocabulary and help them deal with their feelings.  Studies show that the more a child suppresses their feelings about the new member of their family the greater the number of maladaptive behaviors that are displayed. 

The transition into siblinghood
Close to 80% of American children have at least one sibling, according to a review of studies by Brenda L. Volling. Every child reacts differently to the arrival of a brother or sister. It is useful to note that most of the time the parent’s expectation of their child’s behavior was worse than it was. Undesirable behaviors that may be presented by children with a new sibling include:

  • Jealousy
  • Disruptive behavior
  • Temper tantrums
  • Sleep problems
  • Aggression
  • Regression

 In addition, the transition into siblinghood often resulted in a decrease in the child’s displays of affection. With parents being increasingly advised to spend as much time as possible with their baby it is quite easy for an older child to feel like they’ve been replaced by their sibling and this can lead them to act out. With this in mind, parents should avoid quickly reprimanding their older child and focus on teaching and encouraging positive behaviors.

Expressing their emotions
Most parents and clinicians are aware that children express feelings of frustration and anger from infancy, but not usually with words. For example, Jess, age 5, would physically restrain his younger sibling from crawling resulting in an angry scream from his baby brother. Even when such behavior is displayed, clinical psychologist, Dr. Mandi Silverman says that parents must do their utmost to display and reassure their child that the new addition to their family is for the greater good. Parents should be encouraged to use feeling language and teach feeling words so that their child can express how they feel about their new sibling in a way that doesn’t cause harm. Sara Laule, MD notes that parents can also encourage their children to draw or paint their feelings to help parents understand their emotions better.  

Alleviating aggression through positive reinforcement
Multiple longitudinal studies have found that aggression increases in older children when they become a big brother or sister. One of the biggest worries this brings to parents is the fear that their older child with physically hurt their younger sibling. Such behavior should be discouraged at all times; however, it’s essential that it’s not done in a negative way. A parent’s natural response to this scenario is usually to put the child in time out. AAP News reports that more than three-quarters of parents use time out to deal with their children’s inappropriate behavior. Parents need to exercise caution when delivering negative consequences as they run the risk of making their child feel that they are being punished for their feelings or for not being a good enough family member.

 Referring to the baby as “our baby” is highly recommended as it instantly includes the older sibling. Parents should also actively encourage the older child to ‘do good’ for their baby brother or sister. During nappy changes and feeding times, this can involve asking the older child to pass the baby wipes or to sing a song to keep the baby amused. As a child becomes more interested in their younger sibling and demonstrates greater affection and love, parents may wish to increase the bond between the two by allowing the older sibling to hold and feed the younger one. Bottle feeding a baby takes care and precision and many parents will use a bottle warmer to get the temperature of the milk just right. An older sibling could be taught the importance of taking care around any hot water and hot milk and learn how to test the temperature before giving it to their sibling. Of course, doll play is an ideal way to teach a child how to hold and feed their sibling correctly.

The importance of one-on-one time
In order to help a child overcome his or her feelings of jealousy, anger, sadness, and anxiety, parents need to ensure that they factor in some quality one-on-one time with their child. A 1993 study found that following the birth of a sibling, older children cuddled their mothers less often than they did before their sibling’s birth. Blake Lancaster Ph.D. advises that parents should allow their child to guide the activity during this time and to follow their lead as this will keep things natural and pressure-free for both the parent and child.

The majority of children who experience the transition of becoming a brother or sister will not experience significant adjustment difficulties. And the transition can be made even easier with some of the strategies discussed above. However, there are those children who will struggle to adjust. Play Therapy is recommended for those children who have persistent adjustment difficulties.  Information about Play Therapy and help locating a play therapist can be found at www.A4PT.com.

This article was kindly contributed to us by Amy Fletcher, on behalf of BABY SCHOOLING. Check them out!

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