HELPING A CHILD ADJUST TO THE NEW BABY

NEW YORK TIMES COLUMN: FAMILIES TODAY:
HELPING A CHILD ADJUST TO THE NEW BABY
By: T. Berry Brazelton, M.D., and Joshua Sparrow, M.D.

When you arrive home with the new baby in your family, I’d suggest that you have a new and special toy ready to give your older child – preferably a baby of his own that he can feed and diaper while you care for your baby. If he’s more interested in trucks, give him one that he can hold, fuel and wash. This is a chance for him to model on your nurturing.

Don’t be afraid to set limits on how much he can handle the new baby. Limits will be reassuring for him as his feelings about her come to the surface.

If he wants to hold her “like you do,” ask him to sit in a chair. You will need to stay right by his side. You can show him how to put one hand under her neck and head to protect her. He will be learning how to “be a big brother.”

If the older child soon loses interest in being a big brother, don’t be surprised, and don’t make too much of it. Though he may at times be proud of his new role, it’ll be a burden for him, too. Instead, expect him to want to be your baby again. Let him.

Many children who are just discovering what it means to be an older sibling begin to be cruel to the dog or cat. Stop your child firmly but gently, and let him know that you can’t allow this. Help him with his feelings by letting him know that his anger is understandable even though he can’t take it out on the pet.

It won’t help if these feelings are allowed to go underground. An older child is likely to feel that the new baby has displaced him because he was not “good enough.”

A 3- or 4-year-old can often recall mischief that made you angry and led you, in his mind, to want to replace him.

A child of 6 or 7 or older may just ignore the baby – and you. He may even seem to disappear because he’s spending more time with his friends, or dawdling on his way home from school.

Instead of being your companion as you get to know the baby, he seems to want to avoid you to punish you. Time alone with you and your willingness to listen and answer questions will be all the more important.

How to Help an Older Child Adjust to the New Baby

  • Let the older child know how much you’ve missed him.
  • Let him know that the baby has been added to the family and is not a replacement: “Now you have a brand new baby sister. But nobody could ever be just like you!”
  • Hold him close, and remind him of experiences you’ve shared and will share again.
  • Be ready for his need to fall back on old behavior you’d thought he’d outgrown. Don’t expect too much of him right now.
  • If he pushes you to discipline him, remember that limits can be especially reassuring to him with the new baby around. Limits mean to him that his parents “haven’t changed, still love me and will stop me when I need it.”
  • Don’t urge him to be “such a good big brother.” This job won’t always seem so appealing. It will mean more when he finds his own motivation to fill the role.
  • Guard against wanting him to grow up too fast. He will grow up when he’s ready. And his younger sibling is already pushing him enough.

(This article is adapted from “Understanding Sibling Rivalry” by T. Berry Brazelton, M.D., and Joshua D. Sparrow, M.D., published by Da Capo Press, a member of The Perseus Books Group.)


Responses to questions are not intended to constitute or to take the place of medical or psychiatric evaluation, diagnosis or treatment. If you have a question about your child’s health or well-being, consult your child’s health-care provider.

Prior to Dr. Brazelton’s passing in 2018, he was the founder and director of the Brazelton Touchpoints Project, which promotes and supports community initiatives that are collaborative, strength-based, prevention-focused sources of support for families raising children in our increasingly stressful world. Dr. Sparrow, a child psychiatrist, is now the director of the Brazelton Touchpoints Center. Learn more about the Center at www.touchpoints.org.

Reprinted with permission from the authors.

THE PACIFIER PROBLEM

NEW YORK TIMES COLUMN: FAMILIES TODAY:
THE PACIFIER PROBLEM
By: T. Berry Brazelton, M.D., and Joshua Sparrow, M.D.

Q. My almost 4-year-old refuses to give up her pacifier and I am concerned about her teeth. Since her sister was born 10 months ago, she seems to be using it much more. Do you recommend we get rid of it cold-turkey as some pediatricians have recommended? Will the pacifier cause long-term damage to her palate and/or teeth?

A. Some studies associate pacifier use with orthodontic problems, especially as children get older. Such findings don’t mean that any child who uses a pacifier will need orthodontic treatment, but treatment appears to be necessary more often with pacifier use.

We know of no studies that link cold-turkey termination of the pacifier with significant psychological problems later. Concerns arise from the notion that interfering with a young child’s need for oral soothing may lead to overeating and other problems.

The practical challenge in stopping pacifier use is that there’s no sure way to do it. Often, when a parent tries, the child just clings harder to the pacifier.

You mention that a baby sister came along 10 months ago.

Children often suck their thumbs, fingers or pacifiers to reduce stress. They’re bound to feel more anxious when the whole family is.

When a new baby is brought home, parents are understandably preoccupied, worn out and less available to the older child. She may wonder why her parents had to go to all that trouble for this crying, demanding, inert little creature who won’t be much fun for a long time. The question may vaguely cross her mind, “Is the new baby here because I wasn’t enough to satisfy them?”

As she tries to adapt to her new role of older sister, and learns to wait until her parents have time for her, she’s likely to feel upset. As the baby grows, there will be new challenges for the older child – when the baby says her first words, or begins to crawl or walk and get into all of the older child’s toys. A thumb, finger or pacifier can be a welcome refuge.

It may help to offer this child other strategies for soothing herself – a “lovey” such as a soft blanket to stroke and cuddle, or a stuffed animal to squeeze tight. There’s no need for lots of dolls and animals – too many will just distract her. Instead, she’ll need to become attached to a single special one. Hand it to her when she’s distressed, tired or has scraped an elbow or knee, and tell her to hug it hard to help her feel better.

After a new baby is born, the older child feels the need to be a baby, too. The baby just seems to suck up all the time and get all the parents’ attention – so why wouldn’t an older child try the same thing?

Parents often think they can help the older child adjust by praising her for being such a “good big sister.” But the older child also needs reassurance that she can be a baby again when she needs to. The more her need to regress is openly expressed and accepted, the less she’s likely to do so.

Family life is especially busy with a 10-month-old, but the older child might need some extra time to cuddle with you. Don’t say a word about it, and don’t make it an issue, but try to give her some gentle one-on-one time when she doesn’t have her pacifier. Thus she’ll learn – through actions rather than words – that there are even more rewarding places for her to find the comfort she seeks.


Responses to questions are not intended to constitute or to take the place of medical or psychiatric evaluation, diagnosis or treatment. If you have a question about your child’s health or well-being, consult your child’s health-care provider.

Prior to Dr. Brazelton’s passing in 2018, he was the founder and director of the Brazelton Touchpoints Project, which promotes and supports community initiatives that are collaborative, strength-based, prevention-focused sources of support for families raising children in our increasingly stressful world. Dr. Sparrow, a child psychiatrist, is now the director of the Brazelton Touchpoints Center. Learn more about the Center at www.touchpoints.org.

Reprinted with permission from the authors.