My Little One Was So Excited About Being a Big Brother ... But Not Anymore!

Filed under: Opinions, Expert Advice: Family Time

Dear AdviceMama,

During my pregnancy, my 3-year old could not have been more excited about having a little brother or sister. He told everyone he was going to be a big brother and couldn't wait for "his" little baby to be born. He was OK for the first few weeks, but now he is misbehaving in ways he never did before, having meltdowns at home and even at preschool -- a place he loves. What should I do?


Dear Pregnant,

Ah, the proverbial Before and After Baby predicament. Welcome to a club with millions of members!

Your 3-year old is "saying" -- with his behavior -- what he lacks the words to express. And, truth be told, even if he had the words -- "I'm jealous of the baby..." or "I don't like seeing you kiss her..." -- it wouldn't repair the "ouch" in his little heart.

It certainly doesn't mean he won't get over his negative feelings and thoroughly love his little sister, but it does mean that, in a way, your little boy is grieving. He is going through many losses, and just needs some extra help to get through them.

When parents bring a newborn home, they are, for all intents and purposes, in an altered state. The first baby is a complete game-changer. We go from individuals with our own needs, wants, rhythms and moods to hardly recognizable versions of ourselves who would literally take a bullet or stop a train for this 7- or 8-pound bundle in our arms.

We sort of go crazy -- in a good way! -- as we instantaneously transform into parents, spurred on by hormones that seem to reconfigure who we are on a cellular level. Nothing will ever be the same -- ever -- when we first become parents.

When the second child arrives, that transformation has taken place, so at least we have a head start in terms of having some idea of what it means to care for a baby. Even though each child has their own temperament and personality, we've usually mastered the basics.

But what we can't be prepared for is the fact that we have now brought home to our first child a competitor for our love, time and attention. I realize we don't think of it that way (it sounds fairly awful), and it most definitely isn't what adding to our family is all about. But the initial impact on a child when a new sibling is brought into the picture is pretty much that his parents will be less "his."

A 3-year old is already in the midst of an attachment stage referred to by Gordon Neufeld as "Belonging or Loyalty," which has a possessive quality to it. In your son's eyes, you are his. Having a baby messes with his love affair with you, which had placed him exclusively on the stage of your heart.

Be patient with your son, and help him cry whenever he's upset. He needs to offload the swirling mixture of feelings he's trying to sort out. No doubt he is excited about having a baby sister, and will fall in love with her. But, for now, take advantage of the times he's frustrated about anything -- not getting the last piece of cake, or having to go to the store with Grandma when he wanted to be stay home with Mommy.

Don't try to explain why he shouldn't be frustrated when he is, or why he should love the baby when he doesn't. Avoid reminding him that he was excited about his sister before she came; that was before he knew what it meant to have her there every day!

Of course, it will help if you include him in big brother tasks that help him feel good about his new sister's presence in the family, such as helping you change her, or carrying the diaper bag for you. And, naturally, you'll want to give him as much one on one attention as you can so he gets nourished by your special love.

But ultimately, your little boy needs to be held, cuddled and gently guided through the maze of challenging emotions as he adjusts to the new look of your family. Give him room to let his difficult feelings bubble up and be tenderly understood, and he'll come around.

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.