Adding New Siblings to the Mix: Helping Transitions for Children
Adding new siblings to the family is a joyous occasion for most, but can be very difficult for children. Adjustment to a new baby can be different for existing siblings depending on their ages, their ability to handle stress and their pre-existing comfort within the family. It’s easy to overlook or mis-identify changes in behavior while the family is undergoing such a significant change. Oftentimes, children miss the one-on-one time with each parent, grandparent or caretaker. They don’t feel ‘special’ anymore, particularly if they were the youngest. Everyone seems to pay most attention to the new sibling and older siblings can begin to act out to get that attention back on them. Parents may often see children regressing in their behaviors during this time. For example, it is common for older siblings to regress in their previously learned potty training and independent sleeping patterns. More significantly, some children experience symptoms of depression from this new stress and change in the family. Childhood depression can look like sadness and lack of energy, like in adults, though more often appears as agitation, irritability and changes in eating and sleeping patterns. An inability to concentrate and feedback from teachers about worsening school behavior can be signs that your child is not coping well with changes at home, even if they do not show these behaviors in the home. Anxiety levels can also increase, often seen as crying spells, tantrums and separation anxiety when mom and dad leave the home.
There are ways to help your child with transitions in the family. Preparing them ahead of time is the most important way to ease your child into a new role within the family; parents can check out any of the multiple books related to bringing home a new brother or sister to read with their children. Making sure they continue to have tasks and responsibilities at home will help them to feel needed and important. Ensuring that each of your children receives individualized attention with both parents as often as possible is also very integral to lessen stress and coping difficulty. This will maintain a family homeostasis, helping the parent to stay connected with each of their children as they too go through a transition. Finally, patience when experiencing regressing childhood behaviors is imperative. It is necessary to allow your child to become comfortable with the new situation as they will naturally find their way back to previously learned and mastered toileting and sleeping behaviors. While going through these steps, make sure to highlight the positives and small steps your children make towards healthy, appropriate behaviors. Allow them to earn special privileges or small tokens as they improve their behavior and bond with their new sibling and you will see steady movement towards a happy, healthy family.
Palm Beach Behavioral Health and Wellness serves the emotional and behavioral needs of children, adolescents and families in the Jupiter area. Drs. Everson and Rials are Florida Licensed Psychologists who offer individual, group and family therapy, in addition to psychological and psycho-educational testing services. They can be reached at (561) 429-2397 and www.palmbeachbhw.com.