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How to help a child who is having a new sibling

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Q: Baby number 3 arrives in October. I have a 7 year old daughter and a 4 year old son. My son is very attached to me and while I think the baby will be helpful in the long run, any tips you have to help prepare him for the baby would be helpful.

We made it clear (without mentioning the baby) that his dad will get him in the middle of the night and that he will help with all the activities (making oatmeal, changing clothes) that I usually do. When I’m not home he allows his father to do all of this and more, but when I’m home he shows a very strong fondness for me. As he puts it: “Mom, you’re my super best friend. Dad is my best friend.”

A: I giggled as I read, “I think the baby will be helpful in the long run.” We use a lot of terms when it comes to having children, but “helpful” isn’t popular (especially in the early years). But to worry, your 4-year-old is very attached to you and you’re wondering how to prepare him for this change. The good news? Children are very adaptable. Humans are generally built for the weather and grow with nice breaks like new baby siblings. The frustration of not having his mother to himself will be acute, but your son can handle it and grow stronger. As for the bad news, there’s not much you can do right now to make your son less clingy.

Children grow and mature by belonging with their parents and caregivers, and for a 4-year-old, that belonging is pretty literal. They need to be physically close to their caregivers, and while they love their independent and imaginative play, their bond brings them back to their humans when they’re tired, worried, scared, hungry, or threatened by something or someone else.

Four-year-olds don’t make good decisions, so being close to their caregivers ensures they are physically and emotionally safe. This bond is so strong that trying to get your son away from you will only activate that bond more. If you say, “Daddy will do all your activities with you,” he’ll hold you tighter. Four-year-olds aren’t good at keeping time, so the hint that he’ll be with his dad more often in the future will only make your son panic and create even more neediness.

One of the biggest mistakes I see in parents of young children is thinking that they can “logically” find their way out of impending suffering. With older children you may be able to plan, but younger children are emotional beings and you cannot reason through these scenarios.

what should you do First, trust that your good and loving relationship with your son will carry you through this difficult transition. Remember: all he cares about is your connection. If you keep that as the north star, that’s fine. Second, be mindful of how much logic you want to use. Find a book on development and remind yourself of what 4-year-olds can (and can’t) do. Third, write this down on a piece of paper and hang it up wherever your eyes land: Children are meant to be frustrated, and they are meant to cry at what frustrates them.

At the end of the day, parents want things to be easy, with no suffering, no pain. I get it. But children become more resilient when they suffer and have a loving adult by their side. As you get bigger and more tired there will be times when dad will have to line up the kids without you. This will leave your son crying and needy, but as long as everyone is loved and comforted, he will get through it.

After the baby is born, you will not be physically able to do anything for and with your son, and your son will cry in frustration. That’s okay too; Just love him and hug him in the process. The alternative is to either apply logic or cater to all of his needs, both of which are bad choices.

The person you need to work with is your spouse. The more consensus you have about who is doing what and when, the better the energy of the house. If you allow your son to separate you and call the shots, frustration and confusion will build up leading to everyone having a bad time. That’s not to say you don’t give in sometimes, but the more you and your spouse can stick to a schedule, the more relaxed things will feel. The more relaxed children feel, the more mature they become.

Please focus on resting, growing your baby and enjoying your children. Schedule meetings with your spouse and trust your son to handle the new baby’s transition. Much luck.

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