Q: My husband and I just welcomed home a new baby boy this month. My 2-year-old daughter seems to be generally happy about it, but she doesn’t seem to like sharing her Mommy with him and has been very clingy since he’s come home. She’s also begun to throw tantrums. What can we do to help alleviate the bad behaviors?
When Baby Number Two arrives, we experts often say, just imagine if your husband (or wife) came home and said, “Darling, you are the best wife (husband) in the whole world. I love you so much that I decided to bring home another wife just like you!”
As hard as we try to prepare baby #1 for her sibling’s arrival, that little bunny has no idea what’s about to hit her! We refer to the growing fetus as “YOUR baby” and “YOUR brother.” We call her the BIG sister. We even go so far (what I consider ridiculous) as to buy the first born a special gift from her new baby. All these are attempts to assuage the shock of having an intruder in the house.
How you try to talk it up the pending arrival! And your child imagines that her new brother will be born and hop on a scooter with her. A playmate at last! But the reality is that new baby is not what she imagined. In fact, she is a huge problem. First, all she does is sleep, cry and poop. What fun is that? Second, (and here’s the biggie) my mommy and daddy give her a lot of attention. Way too much! What about meeeeeee?!!
For most older siblings the arrival of #2 is at first exciting. But often within just days, reality sets in. “I’ve lost my mommy (daddy) I used to have.” That’s the long and short if it.
When the reality sets in is different for every child and every family. But it is the start of sibling rivalry, and it is absolutely normal. And when parents exclaim that their children never had any rivalry even from day one, I call bologna!
The tantrums you are experiencing, as well as your daughter’s clinginess, make sense to me. She is tantrumming because she doesn’t know what hit her, and she is really frustrated. Her tolerance level has taken a nose dive. And, as hard as you have tried to make it not so, her life has really changed. This period in her life calls for tremendous patience from you. Your daughter can’t help it. And while you know her tantrum isn’t really about not getting a cookie, speak to her feelings; put her feelings into words for her, validating her. “You are so angry that you can’t have that cookie. That feels just terrible!” She will feel heard.
As for the clinginess, of course she is clingy. She had better hold on tightly, as you might go to the baby or go away to the hospital to give birth again. Do allow for this behavior, and give her as much of you as you can. I promise you, it will subside.
I’m sure by now you have figured much of this out. But for those who haven’t, here are some tips for welcoming #2 into your family.
In addition to all the regular, well-known, new baby prep, take #1 to visit the home of a real newborn. Let her see what a tiny blob a baby can be, how she does pretty much nothing. You are shaping her expectations.
Try your best to rebrand or even not use #1’s old possessions for the new baby, so she doesn’t feel that the new one is taking her things.
Know that new babies need to be loved and fed. Many different arms can soothe her, leaving your arms open for business. That’s why the first four months is called “the fourth trimester,” as the baby is mostly still cooking.
Try your best not to hush #1 because the baby is sleeping. Not only will #1 grow resentful, but #2 won’t learn to sleep through noise. That’s a real blessing when you can make it happen.
For those times that you nurse, have a small supply of new toys/gadgets on hand for #1. You will need to add to these two or three things every week. And you bring out the “nursing basket” ONLY when you nurse. By the way, you will be amazed by how much you become able to do while you are nursing!
It’s always a good idea for the non-nursing parent to cultivate an even closer relationship with #1 before the birth. While often little ones prefer Mommy in the toddler years, don’t let that stop Daddy or Granny from stepping up. How good to have a second caregiver in demand.
Try hard not to limit the love your toddler wants to heap on the baby. Rather, redirect his smothering kisses to “Baby so wants you to kiss his feet.”
Do not demand the relationship be loving. If #1 shows not much interest or doesn’t want to kiss his feet, let it go. It will come.
Be #2’s voice, exclaiming his love of his big sister. “I think baby Aaron is so happy you’re home from school. Look how he is wiggling his arms.”
Finally, later on down the road, you will want to have a look at the chapter on siblings and sibling issues—in my book “Just Tell Me What to Say.”
BBB is a child development and behavior specialist in Pacific Palisades. She can be reached through betsybrownbraun.com.
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