Becoming the Big Brother or Sister
An older sibling, once the "king of the hill," can have a difficult time coming to grips with the fact that he or she is no longer the center of everyone's concerns after a new baby arrives. Increases in whininess, sleeping difficulties, withdrawal, dinginess, aggressive behaviors, and toileting problems are common in older siblings during the first few months after the birth of a new baby. Most of these changes are short term, lasting only a few months. Some studies, however, have found correlations between the birth of a sibling and lower levels of verbal development, achievement, and socioemotional adjustment several years later. These findings seem to apply particularly to children in economically disadvantaged families (Baydar & Greek, 1997; Baydar & Hyle, 1997). Such problems are probably due more to changes in the family's overall context and interaction patterns (e.g., poorer parenting strategies, less one-on-one time with the older child, increased financial stress, decreased opportunities for skill development) than to the actual birth of the newborn. And many children adjust quite well to a newborn sibling, showing few negative and even some positive changes. For example, some siblings show greater independence in feeding and toileting habits, improved language abilities, or better peer relations.
Though the transition to being a sibling is not likely to be conflict free, parents can help children adjust. It is important for parents to recognize that becoming a sibling is a major change and can be especially tough for preschool children. It makes sense to prepare the child as much as possible. Parents can try these helpful tips:
- Talk with the child about changes, acknowledge any negative feelings, and try to provide as much one-on-one time as possible.
- Help the child develop coping skills by suggesting positive ways to gain attention.
- Make sure the child has adequate opportunities to play with friends, and encourage more parent-child interaction.
- Point out the many ways in which the older child is needed and can be helpful.
- And finally, parents should model positive coping skills and positive attitudes themselves, thereby helping the child see that the transition can lead to a new phase of family life that is as happy and secure as the phase before.
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