Boy, 11, Disconnects From Family After Half Sister's Birth

Filed under: Siblings, Expert Advice: Tweens

Dear AdviceMama,

I was hospitalized for a month after having a new baby girl, and during that time my 11-year-old son, who was looked after by his stepdad (my husband), started getting into trouble at school. Now his grades are also slipping. I'm concerned about how to get him to join into the new baby experience without him getting jealous. He lives on Xbox and I have to threaten him to do anything with us. Please help!

Concerned Mom

Dear Concerned,

Think of all the things your 11-year-old has had to deal with in the last few weeks: His mother was gone for a month because of a medical condition and he was left in the care of his stepdad. You reappeared with a new little sister to care for while healing from whatever required you to stay in the hospital. And suddenly there was a newborn requiring constant attention, making it easy for him to slip into the background.

It's easy to see that your son may be struggling to figure out where he fits in to this new family. Here's my advice:

• Encourage your son to vent about the many changes he's been forced to adjust to recently. Acknowledge how hard it was to be away from you for so long. Let him tell you if he's jealous, sad or angry. The more you can get him to express what's bubbling beneath the emotional surface, the less he'll act on his negative feelings by getting into trouble or isolating himself from the family.

• Make time to be alone with your 11-year old. He needs to know that he's still special and important to you, and actions speak much louder than words. I know you're probably feeling stretched already, but do your best to give him undivided attention every day, whether it's playing a few hands of a card game, telling jokes, or just cuddling.

• Don't force the new baby on your son, but do create opportunities for him to hold her or just watch her make funny baby faces. Let him overhear you telling your daughter about her big brother's wonderful qualities. Once your son feels that his sister's presence doesn't mean that you aren't "his" anymore, he'll see her less as an annoying intruder, and more as an interesting diversion and a positive addition to the family.

• Consider removing the Xbox and finding healthier activities for your boy to do in the common areas of your house. Many kids suppress their feelings by using video games as a drug to numb them from painful feelings. Make it appealing and interesting to be around you and his stepdad so that he feels wanted and included, rather than like an outsider.

Your son has gone from being an only child for 11 years to having to share you with a new husband and sibling, after coping with your extended hospital stay. Don't make the mistake of thinking that he's in his room because he loves his Xbox. While it's easy to get distracted by a video game, what all children really want and need is to feel lovingly connected to their family. Follow these tips, be patient and don't give up. Your son's behavior and grades will improve once things feel right again in his world.

Yours in parenting support,

AdviceMama, Susan Stiffelman, is a licensed and practicing psychotherapist and marriage and family therapist. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in developmental psychology and a Master of Arts in clinical psychology. Her book, Parenting Without Power Struggles, is available on Amazon. Sign up to get Susan's free parenting newsletter.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.