Bringing a new baby home is a joyous occasion, but it can be marred by the emotional issues of first-born children struggling to come to terms with their changing world. Mrs Ang Yue Ying, Clinical Psychologist, Clarity Singapore, offers helpful advice on smoothing the way for the arrival of a younger sibling.
According to Yue Ying, the tell-tale signs of an older child’s mixed feelings about a little brother or sister are typically only seen after the baby has been brought home.
These signs can include a noticeable increase in attention-seeking behaviour including emotional melt-downs, temper tantrums, defiant or opposing behaviour, clinginess, such as when the child frequently asks to be carried or fed; saying hurtful words like “I hate you” or “I don’t want you”; and increased reassurance seeking, such as when the child frequently asks questions like, “Do you still love me?”.
When older siblings act up, they are usually expressing their natural and perfectly understandable anxiety over the prospect of ‘losing their parents’ to their sibling. They are probably feeling confused as they may be unsure of what to expect, or what it means to them to have a sibling. When there is a sudden decrease in the attention they receive, coinciding with the arrival of a baby, or when adults make unfavourable comparisons, the child may feel unloved.
NO FIXED PATTERN
The behaviour of an older child and their attitude to the arrival of a baby varies from child to child, and largely depends on how well the parents have prepared them for the new addition to the family. Other factors include the age of the older child, and how effectively the parents are able to divide their attention between the older child and the baby.
In the best case scenario, an older child will look forward to having a new playmate, even though in reality they will have to wait a year or two for their baby brother or sister to become a walking, talking companion.
SAFETY: AN ADULT RESPONSIBILITY
When asked how real is the risk of an older child deliberately harming a younger sibling, Yue Ying stressed that a child’s behaviour is greatly influenced by their environment – that is, it is learned.
An older sibling may be more inclined to show aggression towards the younger sibling if they have been exposed to aggressive behaviour such as parents often hitting their children, domestic violence, watching violent TV programmes and so on.
Needless to say, children should always be vigilantly supervised by adults to ensure their safety.
STRATEGIES FOR PREPARING AN ONLY CHILD FOR A SIBLING
Yue Ying shared these guidelines for preparing an older child for the arrival of a baby.
Start early. Tell them what they can expect and not expect. Provide reassurances of love, using analogies that are easily understood by young children.
Involve the older child in the care of the younger sibling. For example, ask the older sibling to give the baby a hug, fetch a diaper or toy, and so on. Be sure to praise them for their help.
Ignore minor incidents of attention-seeking behaviour. However, never ignore the child.
Encourage the older child to put their thoughts and feelings into words.
In addition, expecting parents can take the opportunity to teach their only child prosocial behaviour like sharing. This will stand the child in good stead in the classroom, in the playground and in later life.
Finally, parents should be open to seeking help from professionals. You don’t have to ‘know it all’.