Asha Dornfest of Parent Hacks is one of my favorite people on the planet, both online and in real life. Via Parent Hacks, Asha has built a wonderful community around the sharing of all things practical, yet she also is a deep thinker who ruminates continually on the complex well beyond the nuts and bolts hacks of life. So for today's four favorites guest post, I asked Asha to share four ways to help older children adjust to a new family member.
Of all the transitions that happen in a child's life, gaining a new sibling is one of the biggest. I mean, a new kid in the family. Someone else calling you "Mommy" and "Daddy." A partner in childhood and life. Profound, world-changing stuff.
And while it's impossible to generalize too much about the experience, here are four things to keep in mind as you consider how to help your child adjust to a new, bigger family:
1. Stay relaxed and positive about change. If your older child is like mine, change is fraught with anxiety. So it's natural to want to comfort her about the arrival of a new sibling. My (perhaps odd seeming) advice is to hang back a little. Treat the new baby's arrival as a normal, happy occasion, not a traumatic (if joyful) upheaval. It's a delicate balance. You want to respect your older child's understandable fear about what the future with a new sibling will hold, but you also want to project an attitude of calm, confident, "it'll be just fine"-ness. Try not to talk through every possible change or what-if scenario -- many of which won't come to pass anyway. Address fears openly and warmly, but briefly. Treat your older child as if you are fully confident in his/her ability to both handle the change and be a wonderful helper and role model. This is a chance to demonstrate your belief in your child, and to appeal to his/her desire to be the "big" one.
2. Plan for regular one-on-one check-in time with your older child. Can you think of a time, most days, when you can spend a few minutes uninterrupted with your older child? Perhaps a snuggle and chat at bedtime, or a cocoa break after school? You will naturally be strapped for time and lap space after the baby arrives. But if your older child can look forward to regular "Mom and me" time, those moments will be easier to take.
3. Involve your partner and your child's friends. This is the ideal moment for your older child to create new, special rituals with your partner, a family friend, or an extended family member. And play dates! Use this time to help your child strengthen his relationships with the other loving adults in his life, and deepen his own friendships.
4. Expect kindness, but don't push. Many kids await the arrival of a baby with eager anticipation. I know one little girl who pointed at her mother's pregnant belly and exclaimed, "I'm going to LOVE this kid!" But others are ambivalent and even suspicious. "How can I love the baby? I don't even KNOW him!" Remember that the latter response is okay. As long as your older child's words and actions are kind (or at least neutral), let the relationship take its own course. Don't pressure her to kiss, hug, or hold the baby. Point out how much the baby loves her. Express your delight when your older child reaches out to the baby, and impartially ignore the times she doesn't. Pretty soon, your two children will have grown closer all on their own.
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