Why do some children have a hard time adjusting to a new sibling?
Welcoming a new child into the family is a wonderful and joyous occasion. You are giving your big kiddo the gift of a sibling, a lifelong friend, and a partner in crime. But, that isn’t always how it feels for your child when their new little sibling first arrives.
A new child in the family can make an older sibling feel like their world is turning upside down! Because honestly, it is!
The things that they once relied upon to feel safe, secure, and calm are not always available to them during this time of transition. And while much of this will settle with time as they learn to adjust, it’s not uncommon for kids to have lots of big feelings.
These emotions often come out as regressions, tantrums, and behaviors that can feel out of control to us.
Here are 3 truths about child development that can help you feel more prepared to take on the good (and not-so-good) feelings your child may have so you can best support them during this transition:
Children thrive with routine and consistency.
For children, predictable environments help them feel more grounded in their day-to-day lives.
Think about it, young children have very little control over their lives. When what little control they do have over their world gets interrupted (due to changes in their routines, their expectations, and their space), they can feel really destabilized and may have a tough time keeping it all together. Young children don’t have the emotional intelligence to say, “I’m feeling untethered and need more connection with you.”
Instead, these feelings often get expressed through behaviors like additional power struggles, tantrums, or regressions. Things like not sleeping through the night, having more accidents when they’ve been using the potty well before, and being pickier with what they’re eating are all very common things children exhibit when there is a big shake-up in their life.
Understanding that this is normal, that this is temporary, and also the psychology of why this is happening will help you feel more in control if these behavioral shifts occur.
Children are hardwired to seek closeness and attention from their caregivers.
Babies are hardwired at birth to attach (or create a connection) to their primary caretaker. When we think about it, this is pretty intuitive. Babies know they can’t survive without us, so they’ve evolved to seek connection and proximity to us to ensure their greatest chance of survival. This is the basis of attachment theory.
This most basic primitive drive to seek closeness to us, their parents, continues beyond infancy throughout a child’s life.
So when we are suddenly having to divide our time and attention among multiple children, it can feel like an existential crisis to a child that was used to your undivided attention. Don’t worry, this is completely healthy and something they can get through, and this understanding helps us to view their messy behaviors with a lot more compassion.
With a new baby, there is only so much of you to go around. But whenever possible, try to offer your child connected time with you, and focus on quality over quantity. Be present in the moments you do have together to help them feel the strength of your bond.
And remind yourself when times get tough: this is only temporary. As the family learns to shift and adapt, things will begin to settle for your child.
Babies can be overstimulating to a child.
There is nothing like that new baby smell! But then there are the other smells. And noises. And needs.
Babies can be overstimulating for us adults (with our fully developed brain and nervous system), so just imagine how all of this can feel for our toddlers and young children.
For all children, (and even more so for children with heightened sensitivities to sensory stimulation), this can be overloading for their nervous system and can cause them to become dysregulated. When a child (or any human for that matter) is dysregulated the practical part of their brain goes offline and the emotional part takes over.
Try to identify patterns when your big kiddo seems to struggle the most. It may be driven by big emotions (like when they’re feeling jealous, anxious, or angry) or it may be a sensory response. If you’re noticing that your child becomes upset when there are a lot of things invading all 5 senses, do what you can do to lessen the stimuli in their environment–turn down the lights, and turn off any music. There isn’t much you can do about a screaming baby, but take an inventory of whether there is anything within your control you can do to help calm your child’s nervous system.
The transition of bringing home a new baby will look different for every child and every family. Learning strategies to prepare your child ahead of time, help them adjust, and help them process their feelings once the baby arrives will allow you to be a comforting presence in a challenging time.
If you want to learn my 5-step framework for exactly how to prepare your child when a new sibling is on the way, click here to check out my live virtual workshop that will help you create a game plan to physically and emotionally support your child as you grow your family.