Crying, nappies and wakeful nights. Welcome to the world of your second baby. And, no, this isn't your newborn that we are discussing, but your older child.
After being the centre of your universe, suddenly having to share everything, especially your undivided attention with a little intruder, can tip your toddler's world upside down: he now has to wait more often and longer for things he needs or wants; he spends more time alone, there is often a more negative focus on him as you try to teach him what he can and cannot do with the baby and some of his favourite activities have to be postponed or modified because of the baby's needs. Is it any wonder your first born expresses his insecurity through regressive behaviour such as whining, bedwetting or night waking?
While some children are openly resentful of a new sibling right from the start, others behave lovingly towards the new baby but develop other more subtle signs that they are in need of extra reassurance of your love for them. Lisa, mother of four year old Jessica and one year old Charlotte says, "Jessica really loved Charlotte and was very gentle with her but she totally regressed - she had been out of nappies for four months before Charlotte was born, then she started wetting her pants so much that to avoid frustration (mine) and distress (hers) I put her back in nappies for another six months."
It is also common for anxiety around a new sibling to manifest in challenging behaviour some time after the newborn period, often at new developmental stages such as crawling or beginning to walk, when the baby is likely to need more attention or physically intrudes on the older sibling's space. In this case, parents are often bewildered about what is happening and find it difficult to make a connection between their child's behaviour and the baby. Lisa says, "I have been at my wits end wondering what is going on with Jessica lately. She has been very emotional and crying a lot or having very distressing tantrums - the slightest thing upsets her and when there isn't anything wrong she will deliberately fall over and say, "I can't get up, my leg is broken." I have been feeling so frustrated and angry that she is being so demanding - just when Charlotte is now walking and getting into everything so I am stretched to the limit. I realise it is about my needs for order and control, but it feels as though we are feeding off each other as she pushes all my buttons."
Psychologist Betty Chetcuti, director of Being a Mother (http://www.beingamother.com/ ) runs workshops to help women cope with the stresses of being a mother. She explains how communication between mothers and children can be distorted by conflicting needs when there is a new baby. She says, "it is natural for a mother with a new baby to feel more tired and stressed, so the same behaviour from her older child pre-baby will be dealt with differently post-baby. What seems very demanding can actually be a cry for help (literally) from the older child. For instance, if the older child is refusing to go to bed, this could be his way of saying, "I really want some more time with you -you have been sitting around with that baby on your breast all day and I am worried that you don't love me any more." Meanwhile the mother is thinking, I am so exhausted why don't you just go to bed?"
Betty advises parents that in the absence of any other support, some clear thinking is in order. She says, "take some deep breaths and try to relax. An extra ten minutes talking, cuddling or reading to your child without the baby around can reduce his anxiety and he will be able to calm down and go to bed."
Lisa says, "I have been making an extra effort to spend special time with Jessica when Charlotte is asleep, instead of rushing around doing housework. I ask Jessica, ‘now Charlotte's in bed, what shall we do?' At the moment she usually wants to play hairdressers (and does my hair) or we go for a ‘drive' with all her teddies then we have a cuppa together. And it seems to be working - things are becoming much more pleasant."
By Pinky Mc Kay. Pinky McKay is an internationally certified lactation consultant, infant massage instructor, mother of five and author of several books including ‘Sleeping Like a Baby'(Penguin). Pinky offers Terrific Toddler workshops for parent groups. For information about Pinky's seminars and classes, visit her website www.pinky-mychild.com .