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Tips to help our children adapt to a new sibling

This is our third instalment on adjusting to growing a family. The first was; why kids take so long to adjust (click here) for the blog and the second one was tips for parents regarding adjusting. (click here) This blog will focus on things to look out for and what to do to help our kids adjust to a new sibling

We are aware that families do not just grow with adding babies, therefore we have focused on the addition of a new sibling in general, whether a baby or an older sibling, however there are things that will be specifically directed at a baby, but it is very possible to adapt those tips and pointers towards older children.

Thank you OA Kridge for this amazing photo

”Kids are resilient and adaptable” a phrase that is uttered to comfort parents when crisis hits the family or when their kids go through a difficult stage. It has become such a common anecdote that it is almost impossible to raise a child and not have heard this phrase said to you at least once. This phrase is true, BUT what everyone neglects to say is that, while they are resilient and adaptable, it takes time and the adaptations they have to master, if not handled with care and wisdom, may become the very reason they need to heal from their childhood trauma as adults.

The reality is that adding a sibling to the family is a form of stress and trauma for a child of any age. How we handle this, will determine how our children experience trust, connection, challenges and relationships in the future. Will they develop abandonment and trust issues or will they thrive and easily make new bonds with people they meet?

Naturally, there are children that seem to “bounce back” faster than others. There are also highly sensitive kids who will need support for a long period of time and loads more patience with the adjustment. That is the reality and nothing a parent can do will change that.

Why do we call it trauma? Trauma is classified as a life event that has a dramatic impact on your life circumstances, which sends it in a different direction. Adding a new sibling changes everything for a child. They used to be responded to almost immediately, now they have to wait. Their parents’ are more tired, thus their patience seems to be less. They now have to take turns being the point of focus for everything and they have to share everything. Add to that the developmental leaps and changes they are also still going through, it becomes messy, emotionally taxing and can quickly spiral into resentment, anger and fear. This is not a change like going away for a holiday where there will be an end to this new adventure, this is a lifelong adjustment and could possibly be a threat to their survival – as a child they perceive it as a direct threat to their well-being.

A kind mother of three shared this stunning anecdote with me when I was pregnant with our second child. She was kind enough to warn me that the adjustment may be tough on our eldest and the way she shared it has stayed with me. When her second was born, their eldest doted on the baby. Lovingly played with baby. When the baby was about 3 weeks old she casually turned to her mom and asked when the baby’s mother is coming to get her, as she would like to have her mommy back now.

Such innocence in that one summary of how she viewed the situation, but such a big reality check. To her this new sibling had taken resources from her and she would like it back now, the problem is, she won’t have the abundance of resources she had before ever again.

Before you ask, you will not ‘not’ have enough love for all your kids, but when helping our kids adjust and adapt, we need to understand that for them, this is a perceived threat, that somehow they will become less important to you when you start dividing your resources between them and a new sibling. Honestly stated in the beginning it is not even a 50/50 division, but rather a bigger chunk of resources will go to the most vulnerable of the family especially in the first few years. The older sibling feels it and experiences it.

How do we navigate this? There are amazing ways to help your older child navigate this and a few things that we as over tired and thinly spread parents have to keep an eye on, if we want this adjustment to happen with as little stress as possible. It may seem like an impossible task, but it is quite possible if you know what to look out for and how to manage it.

What to look out for:


1 .Watch your expectations of the older child/ren.

When the new sibling joins the family, your older child/ren did not suddenly mature beyond their age. They did not have a software update that suddenly enables them to take on more responsibility. They are still the same age they were the day before the new sibling joined the family, they are just now a day older. Keep that in mind. We have often had to field comments from well-meaning friends and family making comments to our eldest like: You are a big brother now, so now you need to do ‘XYZ’. Actually no, he does not have to do anything except be himself and his age. Why is there an increase in expectations regarding behaviour and responsibility from a child just because they are now the oldest? It is not just unfair to the child, but also creates additional unwanted stress for everyone in an already stressful situation

2. Be aware that when life gets going that they are still as part of life as they were before the new sibling arrived.

Try to keep them involved and in mind and not make them feel as though life is happening to them. They already feel very insecure due to the change, pay attention to how often you make them part of what life is – and no, that does not always mean making them help with a diaper change.

3. They will need more reassurance from you, keep track of how often you acknowledge them in kind and loving ways

Try to catch them in the moments where they are doing ‘good’ and reward or praise them for it.

4. Watch out for over compensating

The rules of the house remains the same, but create space for missteps and regression to be met with kindness, understanding and love. They are asking to be seen and recognised, they are not asking for trouble.

11 Tips for helping your child adjust:

1. Create Time:

Create time where you can spend one on one time with the older sibling/s without the new sibling. If the new sibling is a high needs child, invest in a proper baby carrier (you can contact us and we will send you the number of a carrier consultant) – expect the older child/ren to feel like they have not had enough of your time and be teary or clingy when the dedicated time is over, it is normal.

2. Ask them if the WANT to be part of taking care of the new sibling’s needs:

Ask them if they want to be part of taking care of the new sibling’s needs, like changing the diaper or playing or fetching something for the new sibling – If they say no, accept it and don’t push the point. They will find their own ways to bond with the new sibling. Not all people like to bond in the same way, create opportunities for involvement with no string attached. They are not the parent, so taking care of their sibling is not their responsibility.

3. Give them room to just be!

They do not have to love the new sibling from the get go. They WILL love their sibling and contrary to popular belief, the less you as parent involve yourself in their relationship, the stronger their bond will be.- obviously in the beginning you will facilitate opportunities for them to bond – keeping both children safe – but it is their relationship, let them build it for themselves.

4. Catch them when doing ‘good’, not just with the new sibling, but in general.

Kids wants to feel accepted and loved. When we recognise and praise their good choices it creates a positive connected bond with all who are involved.

5. Invite them in

This idea is often related to the ‘give them things to do for the new sibling because kids like to feel helpful’, but it goes further than that. Allow them to say what they feel about the new sibling. You may not always like what they have to say, but don’t judge what they say. Accept what they say and thank them for sharing. Never contradict what they are saying when they express their feelings. It will only lead to suppressed emotions and more fear. They may even say they hate the new sibling, you know that they do not really, but they are limited in how to express themselves and at that point in time, they are actually just stating that they dislike the change in the home environment.

6. Busy boxes

This is a life saver especially in the early weeks and months of having a baby in the home. Have a busy box for every room. This box may only be opened when you are busy with the new sibling and in that particular room. This adds something special to the moment. Add one toy for the new sibling into that box to facilitate bonding, that toy is for the older sibling to use to engage the new sibling with.

7. Special books

We had a variety of books, one in each room and when we were busy feeding or rocking or having to sit for an extended period of time with the youngest, we had books to read for the oldest.

8. Be present

You can sit with the new sibling in your lap and still watch your older children play. Be a sideline commentator while they play, making positive remarks or narrating what you are seeing playing out in front of you i.e. I see you picked the red block, where would you like to put it. That way the older sibling feels acknowledged and loved and in less of competition for survival

9. Hug it out

They feel the stress you feel, so hug them often and hug them long.

10. Laugh and play loudly

It is difficult for a young child to be quiet and often that is what is expected of them when there is a new sibling in the home. Create space to play loudly and laugh and just be. We live in the age of baby monitors, so if the new sibling is sleeping and is okay with not being in your arms, take the monitor, go to the other side of the home if possible and just be silly and loud with your older child/ren. The beauty of laughter and being loud is it releases stress the same way a good cry will release the stress. So all of you will benefit from it.

11. It takes time, and taking time is okay

Some older children (usually age 5 and up) will seem to adapt quite easily to the new normal, do not be fooled by it. Check in with them often, they may just be afraid or feel guilty for not really being okay with the change. They may think that because you as the caregivers are extra stressed that you cannot deal with their negative feelings as well, so they believe they must just be okay. They may also take 6 to 8 months to finally feel that they are out of the woods and then begin to act out. The acting out may come as a perceived over-reaction for something small, but they have been under stress the whole time and the ‘small thing’ is just the straw that finally breaks the camel’s back. It can come through as obstinate disobedience, being more challenging than usual. Be prepared that acting out because of the new normal may only manifest long after it seems that things are finally settling down. When this happen, before scolding or accusing them of deliberate disobedience, talk with them and get to the bottom of it.

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Trust is developed not earned

One of the more difficult concepts when raising children is the concept of trusting our children. It doesn’t really come easy, does it? We’ve had to do everything for our children from infancy, we had to trust our own judgement and we all know how under developed a child’s ability to think rationally is. We have all done the “Have you brushed your teeth? Come here let me check” mantra. We have to do it, because they are still learning, easily distracted and some kids just really hate doing certain tasks, like brushing teeth. So we as parents have to check them.

Photo credit: Kwhame Photography

The problem is, that our children start with a deficit of trust from parents, at least that is how they experience and view it. We do not take them at their word from the get go. I am fully aware that there is the belief that trust is earned and not just given, and we want our children to earn our trust. Well what if today we challenged that belief? What if from today you give trust to your child from the get go? No, I am not saying don’t check up on things as they learn how to do certain tasks, what I am saying is, always give them the benefit of trust until proven otherwise.

“Oh, but that is not how life works.” I hear you say. However it is how life works in reality. Think about it in these adult terms: You are looking for a job. You send your CV to a company. The person who reads your CV has to trust that what you wrote on your CV is in fact correct. For them to actually want to do a check on your qualifications and experience, they first had to trust the information you gave them. They do the checks – well some do, some don’t, you never know – if you were truthful, the checks will confirm their trust in the information you gave them is correct. Now you finally earned some more trust. However it started with you trusting that they will look at your CV and them trusting the information given. That small step of trust sets the foundation to earn further trust.

Trust is usually shown in the small things we do. If we feel the need to check up on our children to see if they followed through on something then either we thrust responsibility upon them before they were ready, or, we have unresolved trust issues of our own. Yes, I said it!

The last mentioned, heralds the need for deep introspection, it goes to how you were raised. Did your parents patiently show through how they treated you that they trust you or was your childhood littered with phrases like, “Let me check” or “Ï trust you, but not your friends or the outside world”. The problem with these phrases, as innocent as they may seem, is it always reflects back to the idea that you are not trustworthy and the mistakes you have made count against you. “Let me check” says: I do not take you by your word, you have let me down before, so why should I believe you now? I don’t trust your ability to be honest, thorough or capable. I know, when they are young, they experiment with lies and boundaries, and it never stops until the day we die. I also know they need support while spreading their wings, developing their independence and decision making skills. Starting from the foundation of trust, it is easier to guide them and help them manage the journey.

“I trust you, but…” the ‘but’ nullifies the trust and the belief that you are trusted. If you don’t trust my friends, then you don’t trust my ability to make valuable friends and build positive relationships. If you don’t trust the world, then you don’t trust that I will be able to care for myself in this world. That means you feel I cannot be trusted to make good choices when you are not around. This typically happens in the teenage years. Yes, I know, we don’t really trust the world or that weird friend our kid brought home. Our child’s ability to make good choices is not fully developed yet, so of course the trust is difficult.

They are our kids and we mean well. We want to set them up for success. How do we encourage independence, honesty and good decision making, if we do not set up boundaries and check up on them?

Trust, like connection works with a bank account. When baby is born, we don’t need to earn their trust. They trust implicitly that we will meet their needs. They trust us to listen to them and protect them and love them. We trust them too, to let us know when they need something, whether by cooing, looking at us, making small gestures or even crying. The relationship starts with trust.

In infancy our relationship with our children either deposits trust into the account or withdraws trust from the trust account. Every time baby signals their need and we respond, it deposits not just connection but trust into the bank. When we miss a cue, we withdraw from both accounts. In infancy, a healthy relationship between parent and child creates a positive relational bank account in connection and trust.

After infancy, we withdraw often from this bank account. When baby starts to walk and explore, but instead of trusting them to be able to learn how to trust their own body, we keep telling them how to do it. We keep on stepping in and thereby interfering in the learning curve. The more we helicopter their movements – I am not saying let them tumble down head first down a flight of stairs – the more we create a deficit in the bank of trust. There is a difference between standing close by and waiting to catch them when they fall, and providing supportive commentary like “I see your hands need a place to hold onto” and holding on to their bodies as they try to manage climbing down the stairs. In the first scenario, we trust that they will find a safe way to climb the stairs, while we show them they can trust us to catch them if they stumble or fall. But with the second scenario we hinder them learning to trust their own bodies and skills. Do they fall and get hurt, yes they do, however allowing them to fall and get hurt their brain learns how their bodies feel when off balance. They learn to trust themselves.

At certain ages we hand over specific reigns of responsibility to our children. We stop brushing their teeth and they start doing it themselves. We stop feeding them and they start feeding themselves. There is still a learning curve involved here. Yes, you have been brushing your child’s teeth for 2 years, we would hope they have learned by now how to do it properly. They did not! They learn through doing. For the next two to three years, brush teeth side by side, prompting the next place or step in the routine. Eventually, you will brush side by side and you will see them brushing every tooth the way they learned how to. Now you can slowly extract yourself from their tooth brushing process. You remind them that it is time to brush teeth and send them off to do so. How do you know if they did it? Initially you can walk with them to the bathroom and see them off at the sink. Over time, you see them off at the door and finally you reach the point where you don’t walk with them. It is a gradual process and you can follow your child’s lead, they will show you and tell you to let them be, when they are ready. Never ask them to show you if they brushed their teeth. You will soon enough discover if they did not. That goodbye hug or kiss will tell you if they did not. Don’t scold them when you smell the stinky breath. Just hug and whisper, “I can smell your teeth are not brushed, quickly go and do it please.” and leave it there. If there is no time or the situation does not allow for going back and brushing, when they are younger than 8, have some breath freshener with you, just to help them out until there is time to brush teeth. If they are older, natural consequences is the way to go.

Brushing teeth is just a small example of how to maintain and build on the trust relationship. We need to apply this to all things they do, learn and have a responsibility for.

Steps for checking whilst keeping the trust relationship in the positive:

1 – Do it for the child

2 – Let the child do it with you

3 – Slowly step aside and give them space to do it on their own

4 – Be their back up, remember they are still learning this thing called responsibility – You are always a team

5 – Ask if they did what they needed to do, believe their answers

6 – If they did not do what they needed to do, and it isn’t life threatening, let them live out the consequences of their actions

7 – NEVER SAY – Let me check.

8 – If they have not taken proper responsibility for something go back one step and support them without condemnation i.e. let’s brush our teeth together today. That way you give them support without stating that you don’t trust them.

There is no incentive for a child to be honest if we constantly check up on them after they have stated that they have completed a task. There is only incentive for honesty if they get positive reinforcement and support when they make mistakes. Protecting our children from the consequences of their choices and actions while they are still learning responsibility, teaches them nothing. Punishing them for not doing what they said they did, will just increase the likelihood that they will rather do it behind our backs and develop better skills at being sneaky.

You can have a conversation about honesty and trust with your child. Have these conversations when you are calm and not angry. You can say things like “I am feeling disappointed that you did not brush your teeth like you said you did. Honesty and trust is important for us to be able to function as a family. I want to be able to trust you. So let us find a solution together to get your teeth brushed in the morning.”

This invites your child into a conversation and it will be a clear indicator of whether you have thrust a responsibility onto your child, before they were ready to bear it. Remember, each child is different and even though there are all these guidelines of at what age a child ‘should’ be able to take proper responsibility for a task, not every child will be ready at that age and your child is not failing if they need support for a little bit longer than others.

C3 Parenting believes in setting parents and children up for success. We offer parenting courses and workshops. Click here to find out more

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6 Tips for parenting 3 and 4 year olds

Parenting a three and four year old is pretty intense. They are the concentrated essence of their being, their personality and everything in the world. This age is when they mirror us as parents the most. This is the age where they start whining (which is a good thing) pushing harder on boundaries and become bossy. This is the age where it feels as if you want to give up on parenting all together.

Each age has their moments, however it feels as if these two years are the longest and toughest years a parent will ever have to parent. These years creates in us the everlasting fear of the teenage years. They are not called threenagers for nothing.

At this age your child has basically completed a very big developmental leap. At the age of 18 to 24 months their brain disconnects the idea that, the primary caregiver and they, are one and the same person. The physicality of their being is now two entities. Only at the age of 7 does it dawn on them that they do not share a brain with their primary caregiver or anyone else for that matter. From age 2 years to approximately 2.5 to 3 years, this discovery is what they focus on. So they will start to experiment with independence in play, always using the primary caregiver as a homing beacon.

At about age 3, they finally made their peace with this, and now can focus on other developmental needs and leaps. Now they are focused on learning about emotional control, authority and delayed gratification. (Just remember impulse and emotional control is only starting to develop now. It is the part of the brain that develops the slowest and is estimated to be only fully developed at the age of 25 https://web.stanford.edu/group/sparklab/pdf/Tarullo,%20Obradovic,%20Gunnar%20(2009,%200-3)%20Self-Control%20and%20the%20Developing%20Brain.pdf )

These skills takes time to develop and practice. They look to their parents for guidance on how this will look and they try to mimic everything we do. Their frustration levels is through the roof. Have you ever looked at something being done, try it yourself and it just did not work out? This is a constant for them. They can see how things are suppose to work, from social interaction to engaging with the material world, but the result is just wrong more often than not.

They get frustrated because we just don’t seem to get what they want and they struggle mid-frustration to use their words, just like us. So they scream and whine and cry. Whining is a sign that they are trying to override their emotions to interact with their rational brain, where they have a better command of words and better control of their body. It takes time, be patient with them and yourself.

So how do we parent through the emotional outbursts and the whining? The feeling of constant push back and willfulness?

6 Tips for parenting 3 and 4 year olds

1. Eye level:

It is so important to remember to go down to your child’s eye level and engage with them there. A towering person, feels threatening and increases the hormonal output of fight or flight. Make the effort to look them in the eyes when talking with them. First it is less scary and secondly it invites them into a conversation, instead of a confrontation.

2. Acknowledge their emotions:

Nothing is more empowering than knowing that your emotions are recognised, respected and valid. Help them through it with support, recognition and being present. Emotions are nothing to be scared of, if you run away from their emotional expressions, you are telling them that their emotions are bad and should be feared. That in itself stunts the developmental process they are engaging with.

3. Lean into the situation:

This is contrary to how most of us were raised. We were raised that negative emotions and expressions in behaviour should ostracize the person expressing them. They should remove themselves until they feel better or can better express themselves. This is not healthy. Yes you can move your child away from a public setting, but only to help them work through what they are experiencing and feeling. Never leave your child alone to work through these big emotions. Try to remain unruffled and matter of fact.

Things you can say:

“I am moving you to a different room, so that you can work through your emotions with me.”

“ I am not scared of how you are feeling, you are safe”

“I am with you”

“I love you”

“This is big emotions. I sense You feel frustrated” – (whatever emotion you can pinpoint at that particular point in time)

4. Don’t step into the power struggle:

Power struggles are only effective if there is two people in the struggle. Your child is trying to determine their own authority and abilities. There is no need, nor will there ever be a need to try and prove who is in control. The moment you as the parent start arguing with your child about who is in control, your child is in control of the situation. If you lean into the emotional expression and just calmly keep your boundary, there will not be a power struggle. The moment you feel like you have something to prove or have something to lose, that is when you stepped into the power struggle. In a power struggle no-one wins. Children find security in the calmness of the parent.

5. Give them real choices:

Children this age wants more autonomy. Giving choices, that are real choices for autonomy, will help navigate this learning curve. Real choices are important. A real choice is where no matter what they choose, their choice cannot and will not be overridden or punished. If the choices you give your child is choices that ends in a situation where you as the parent will have to override the choice or one of the options given is punitive, the choice becomes manipulation instead of empowerment. Ie Real choice: “We are going to a park with thorns. Would you like to put your shoes on now, or when we get there?” Manipulation “Put on your shoes or we don’t go to the park.”

6. Check your own behaviour:

This is the toughest one for parents to embrace. We are our children’s main sphere of information. They look to us for the “how, when, where and why” of behaviour. If your child speaks rudely or bossy to you, chances are that you have been speaking to your child and other that way for a while now. Children in this age group start to experiment with authority. Where do they learn how authority is expressed and engaged with? From you as the parent. So check yourself. Check how you speak to them. How often do you ask them to wait before you engage with them? How do you say no? If your behaviour has been dismissive and abrupt, go apologise to your child and admit it. Tell them you will try to pay attention to how you speak to them. They will internalize that apology and start checking their own way of doing things.

Lastly, give your child space to grow and learn.

Parenting is messy and fun. Enjoy it, learn and grow in it.

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