What’s more precious than a sweet, soft, cuddly baby? The pressure a family can feel to exude joy over a new baby can be overwhelming for everybody, especially older siblings. Contributing therapist Alisha Bennett, LMSW, from Cobb Psychotherapy shares her thoughts on how to approach the feelings an older sibling may have during your family’s transition.
When we think of babies coming into the world, we think of the joy and excitement that this new life is bringing. It’s a celebration in the home, and everyone is thrilled to meet the new baby, right? In reality, not everyone may be excited once the new baby is home and requiring most of your attention. You may already know this and be prepared for it, but it’s okay for your older child to not be excited about the new arrival.
Often, the older child gets asked questions like:
- Are you excited about your new brother/sister?
- Are you being a good big brother/sister?
- Are you taking good care of your new sibling?
The expected answer is, “yes” to all of these questions, and maybe you’ve heard that response from them. They learn that they are supposed to respond positively. But has your oldest child gotten an opportunity to honestly share their feelings about the new baby? It is important to allow room for both positive and negative thoughts and emotions. Sometimes they may show love and excitement for the baby, and other times they may express anger and want the baby to go away. To have both kinds of thoughts and feelings is completely normal.
Think about a time when you have held in a strong negative emotion, or had something stressful going on in your life, but couldn’t talk to anyone about it. What happened to you? Did other behaviors or emotions come out that had nothing to do with what was going on? Once you were able to talk about it with someone and get help, did you feel better? Think of your child having to hold in all of their negative feelings and thoughts. What might happen if they are doing this? What other behaviors might you see from them? Allowing your child to express their negative feelings about the baby does not make you a bad parent or mean that that you are encouraging your children not to love each other. It’s actually helping your older child cope with different kinds of emotions, and this may, in fact, help their relationship as they get older.
Allow your older child space for negative thoughts and feelings about the new baby. Allow them to talk about it or express it through their play or art. It can be helpful to find books about new siblings in which both negative and positive emotions are expressed by the characters in the book. Validate all of their feelings and try not to make them feel guilty for having negative ones. And remember, you can always seek assistance or support from a professional.
Alisha Bennett, LMSW is a therapist at Cobb Psychotherapy, with locations in Brooklyn and Manhattan. She has over 8 years of experience working with children, adolescents, young adults and families in the New York City public school system. She can help with various special needs including learning disabilities, anxiety, depression, ODD, Autism and ASD. Alisha also works with adopted children and children of divorce/separation. Alisha helps children build the skills they need to be more successful in school and have improved self-esteem day to day. Her approach is positive, encouraging, and builds self-awareness. Alisha practices from CBT, Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) and Social Thinking concepts. She believes if children can, then they do. If children are not demonstrating particular behaviors, they need support developing their skills.