Preschoolers look so grown up sometimes. When a new baby comes home, all that can change. They can have very strong responses to becoming an older sister or brother, and not all of their reactions are easy to decipher or deal with. Here are a few explanations for their responses and some suggestions to make things easier on everyone.
First of all, seeing the situation through their eyes will help explain some of the behaviors. Even though a preschooler can tell you that “There is a baby in Mommy’s tummy”, she really can’t imagine what it will be like for her to live with a newborn in the family. Older siblings can do that, but she was the baby the last time! Preschoolers aren’t expecting that Mommy will be less available for a cuddle while she is nursing, or that people will flock around the new baby when they come over instead of her. She is going to realize that she isn’t the focus of adult attention when the new baby comes home. And she did nothing wrong to lose that spot. Being the baby of the family has it’s down sides, but it is a recognizable position that a preschooler has held for years. With the addition of a new baby, a preschooler has to recognize that things have changed, and then figure out just where she belongs in this new family.
You heard me, new family. It took me years of professional work and studying to really understand something simple. When a family gains or loses a member, the entire dynamic shifts. In reality, the family is much different after each change. It is a new family, not just the-old-family-plus-one. Parents change and children change. I really saw this happen when my oldest friend had another baby after her youngest of 3 was six. The oldest became practically a statesman for the children as a group, and the youngest lost his “baby” title. The middle daughter became a junior mommy, which she enjoyed. New roles for everyone.
Back to preschoolers and welcoming a baby home. As in my earlier post on toddlers and new siblings: imagine that your spouse or partner brings home a new husband or wife, and tells you that they still love you. You just have someone younger and cuter to compete with and you will love helping that person! If you complain, you are behaving badly. Toddlers actually get off the hook a bit easier because everyone expects toddlers to react strongly to everything. Preschoolers can be expected to act like 7 year-olds, even when they are not.
Here are my suggestions for a smoother ride:
- try not to emphasize what a wonderful thing this new role of big brother really is, since your preschooler might be less willing to talk about his feelings if he thinks that you only want to hear about how happy he is.
- Acknowledge the change, even the negative emotions. You might have to put words out there. Preschoolers are still learning how to name feelings, and you can help. Saying that he can have emotions like anger, jealousy and resentment ( or simpler explanations that explain emotions) makes it OK to feel what he feels. Having feelings isn’t bad, acting them out aggressively is a problem.
- Schedule one-on-one time, but prepare to be refused or rebuffed. You may even need to ask your preschooler what he thinks would be good “me time” and when it should occur. Remember, gaining control in some things can make a person in the middle of a sudden life change feel better.
- offer cuddle time and even time to pretend that he is the baby again. Make it clear that you are pretending and the this is a time limited offer, just like the store bargains. But being able to sit on your lap and cuddle, even reminisce about the time when he was your baby, is really nice for both of you.