Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been sharing some highlights of the research on how kids adjust to becoming big sisters/big brothers. So far, we’ve talked about how reactions vary a great deal from child to child, and how age, developmental level, and personality affect how a child adjusts.
Today’s “point” goes further into the reasons that some kids have an easier time adjusting than others. This is one of my favorite points, because it highlights how the whole environment influencesa child , and it gives a lot to think about as far as making make the transition a smoother one.
Point 3: When you introduce baby #2, it probably won’t be the only change in your big kid’s life.
The birth of a baby is usually accompanied by a number of other adjustments and changes within a family. Here are just a few examples:
Work arrangements. Families often make adjustments to their work schedules when babies are born. Sometimes these changes are short-term, like a few weeks of maternity and/or paternity leave. Sometimes they are more permanent, such as a parent leaving their job to stay home rather than pay for two children to be in daycare, or a parent taking on a second job to help with increased expenses at home.
Changes in work arrangements often have a ripple effect on the family. For instance, less income may mean more financial stress and more bickering. There are usually changes in when and how often parents are home, and consequently how much time they are spending with the kids. Job changes can affect a parent’s stress level, such as if one parent is now working longer hours to support the family financially.
In our case, we were extremely blessed that Hubby started a sabbatical right when Bee was born and was home for 8 months, giving me extra company during maternity leave and extra help after I returned to work part-time. It was awesome! We were so, so lucky. But when Hubby returned to work, Zippy became very clingy with me, not even wanting to separate from me for naps and expressing a lot of anxiety that I was going to go away while he was sleeping. This is just an example of how something like a change in work schedule can impact children’s emotions and behavior.
New sleep arrangements. Maybe your older child needs to move into a new bedroom or give up his crib to make room for baby. Or maybe you’ve been co-sleeping but have decided that now is the time for your oldest to move into her own room. These can be major changes for a child! Experts often recommend making these kind of changes well before baby arrives.
|Big kid need to give up her crib? Do it well before baby arrives.|
Changes in childcare. New work arrangements may be accompanied by changes in childcare plans. Maybe your child will be staying at home instead of going to daycare. Or, maybe you’ll be working more now that there are two kids to support and your child will be spending more time in daycare. Either of these are significant changes that affect your child’s schedule and the people he interacts with each day.
One of the reasons that we continued sending Zippy to daycare throughout my maternity leave was because we believed it would benefit him to keep his pre-baby schedule and make sure he spent time with his friends. Taking him out of daycare while I was on leave, then sending him back 3 months later, would have been two significant changes that we were able to avoid. I also felt that sending him some days but not others (basically, sending him to daycare when I felt like it) would create an unpredictable schedule that would be tough on him, so we stuck with his usual 3 days/week.
Disrupted routines and schedules. Suddenly, Momma is nursing baby and can’t put the big kid to bed so Daddy has to do it instead. Or instead of having some snuggle time in the morning, the family is rushing to get two kids ready for daycare and out the door. Changes like this disrupt the routine and rituals that your oldest may really depend on and enjoy. They may also disrupt the predictability of your child’s world, which depends a lot on routine and structure. It won’t be possible for everything to stay exactly the same and you will inevitably end up creating some new rituals and routines, but it is worth giving some thought to whether you can preserve the parts of your schedule that keep you all sane and the rituals that your child cherishes most – at least for a while.
|Something big has changed and this kid is not happy about it!|
Parents’ mood and mental health. You’ve got the basic stress of caring for a new born and juggling the needs of two children, not to mention sleep deprivation and hormones that are doing crazy things. It is perfectly normal for parents’ mood to suffer a bit, which can influence how we interact with our children. (I’ll talk more about changes in mother-child relationships next week.) We have all heard about postpartum depression, which affects around 13 % of moms and can affect how older children adjust. Did you know that a pretty large number of dads experience postpartum depression, too? One study found that 25% of men were depressed 3-6 months after baby arrived! Wow! I was surprised by that. Are you? Since dads often help take care of the older child, his depression can seriously affect how an older child adjusts. Obviously, it is really important to take care of ourselves as parents, because our well-being directly affects our kids.
Marital conflict. In some families, there may be more arguing or tension between parents after the baby arrives. Marital conflict has a major impact on the children, especially if it goes on in front of them. We’ll talk more about how having a second child affects marriages in a couple of weeks and share some ideas for keeping your relationship strong.
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So when you think about how your child adjusts to becoming a big sibling, keep in mind she might be adjusting to a whole lot more than a baby showing up. All of that individual variation in how kids handle the transition from only to big sib? It probably has a lot to do with what other changes are occurring alongside the baby’s arrival. The more changes your child experiences all at once, the more difficult the transition is likely to be.
Obviously, change is an inevitable part of expanding your family and there is no way to avoid every change that accompanies the birth of a child. Every change isn’t necessarily going to be problematic; some changes can be for the better. It’s not possible to rigidly keep every element of your life exactly the same as before the baby arrives. But to the extent that you can introduce other changes before baby arrives and keep changes around the time of baby’s birth to a minimum, the better. It can help to think about difference spheres of your life where change might occur – home, family, friendships, finances, work, daycare, living situation. Identify changes that are inevitable or unavoidable, and identify ways to keep the impact on child #1 to a minimum or to help her adjust.
This is one of several posts on what research has to say about how kids handle the transition from only child to big sibling. It is based largely on a summary by Dr. Brenda Volling published in the PsychologicalBulletin on-line in January 2012.
Photos, top to bottom, courtesy of LizMarie_AK and Ryan Boren via Creative Commons. Some rights reserved.