Dr. Laura Markham has long been our parenting guru with her book Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting but her new book Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings: How to Stop the Fighting and Raise Friends for Life is now available for pre-order, and is a must read for all parents of more than one child. Don’t you wish your siblings had read this book before you schism-ed off into your own disconnected universes? With a new baby at home here at GGA HQ, the wonderful Dr. Laura has graciously shared her top tips to keep you connected to your other kids when you have a new baby;
Daily habits to stay connected to your child now that he has to share you with the new baby
by Dr. Laura Markham, author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings: How to Stop the Fighting and Raise Friends for Life
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If you have a new baby in the family, you’re by definition exhausted. It can be daunting to think that now, in addition to everything your infant needs, you have to pay special attention to what your older child needs. The good news is that a little time every day on preventive maintenance will usually keep everyone on a more even keel, so you can avoid breakdowns and enjoy your children more. So think of these habits as a way of life that you can develop, so they don’t take any extra energy.
- Connect with each child physically every morning. If you’ve been up in the night feeding a baby, it will be hard to welcome your older child when he comes racing into your room at the crack of dawn. But spending five or ten minutes snuggling with him can change the whole tone of your morning. Look at it this way. He’s been disconnected from you all night. He needs to reconnect to feel secure in the world, to refill his love tank. Then he’ll be ready to rise to the challenges of the day.
- Get in the habit of re-connecting warmly with each child every hour. Life with kids, especially when one is a baby, can feel like total chaos. If it feels that way to you, imagine how it feels to your child. His sense of time is different. He can lose himself in his toy cars for an hour while you feed and tend to the baby, so it’s easy for him to start feeling disconnected from you. When you have a moment while your littlest is happily staring at a sunbeam, grab it to go sit with your older child. Be sure that when you have to excuse yourself to tend to the baby, you give him a warm hug and tell him how much you loved being with him.
- Sit on the floor with your baby. If you’re always sitting on the couch and your child is usually sitting on the floor playing, there’s a natural separation. She looks up, and there you are on the couch holding the baby. If, instead, you find a way to get comfortable on the floor next to your child while she’s playing, she feels like you’re more available. Often, the baby will be happy on a blanket, waving her arms and watching you interact with her big sibling. Babies love to watch big kids.
- Wear your baby to keep your hands free for your older child or children.
Babies need a significant amount of holding. But they don’t need constant eye contact and interaction—that’s too much pressure—as long as they can get it when they want it. In fact, anthropology tells us that babies are “designed” to learn by observing life, including family life, from the safety of the parent’s chest or back. So wearing your baby is good for the baby, and leaves your hands and attention free for your other child or children. Slings have the added benefit of keeping the baby a bit less accessible to the older child, so he can’t “share” his toys by putting them on her head. You can even nurse in the sling, so that you can sit on the floor interacting with your older child at the same time.
- Connect with your child after every separation. If your older child goes to school, remember that she’s returning to you with a full emotional backpack of experiences from her day. She’ll need your loving attention to refuel. If someone else is bringing her home, try to put your infant down to have both arms free to scoop up your child as she returns. It’s terrific if you can set up your schedule so that she gets some time alone with you soon after you’re reunited. At the very least, be sure she gets some snuggle time with you on the couch where she gets to tell you the best and worst parts of her day while you feed the baby.
- Set aside time to be alone with each child every day for at least 15 minutes. For most young children with a baby sibling, the baby is always present, always distracting you. Your child needs the experience of you being ALL HIS for at least a short time every day. Choose a time of day when your child can decide what to do with the 15 minutes. Set a timer and say “I am all YOURS.” Then pour your love into your child with 110% focus.
Why a timer? Because you don’t want the baby waking up from his nap to end your time with Big Sister; that leads to resentment. So set the timer to go off 20 minutes before you expect the baby to wake up. That way, when the timer rings, you have time to help your child transition to another activity. Many kids have a meltdown when the timer goes off. No, she’s not being ungrateful. She’s just experiencing how good it felt to have your full attention and how sad she feels to lose that paradise, yet again. It’s an opportunity for her to grieve the very real loss of no longer having you all to herself. Don’t extend your play time with her, but do give her your full attention and empathize with her sense of loss. “It’s so hard when we have to stop playing….You love it when you have me all to yourself…It’s hard to share me sometimes….I miss our special times alone, too……Tomorrow we will have our Mom & Morgan time again, okay?…I know, that seems a like a long time to wait….You can cry as much as you want….Everybody needs to cry sometimes.”
After your child cries about losing you at the end of your time together, don’t be surprised if she’s more affectionate with the baby. As always, when we accept our child’s emotions so that she can feel them, those emotions heal, leaving her happier and more cooperative.
- Trade off, so each partner gets time to connect with each child daily. Your child has an individual relationship with each parent, and he will feel the loss of either of those relationships.
- Be sure there’s at least ten minutes of laughter daily. In addition to your alone time with your child, be sure to schedule in ten minutes of roughhousing with belly laughs, to get your child’s anxieties and fears out and do some bonding. (See Using games to help your child with jealousy, in the next section.)
- Cultivate empathy as your “go to” response to your child. Feeling understood is what helps your child accept when he doesn’t get what he wants. And it’s the foundation of his feeling connected to you. He doesn’t want eggs for breakfast? Don’t get defensive, and don’t feel like you need to make a new breakfast, either. Instead, acknowledge his disappointment. “You were hoping for oatmeal with brown sugar again, huh? And here I made eggs. You sound so disappointed. It isn’t what you wanted. I bet when you’re a grown-up, you’ll have oatmeal with brown sugar every single morning! We can certainly have oatmeal tomorrow. Soon you’ll even be able to make oatmeal yourself. Today, though, we have eggs. I know, would you like some toast with your eggs? You can help butter it.”
- Connect with your child at bedtime. Maybe Mom needs to nurse the baby to sleep, so Dad puts the older child to bed nowadays. That’s fine, but be sure that you include 15 minutes in the bedtime routine for your child to spend with Mom.
- Use the power of ritual to stay connected. Repeated rituals take on extra symbolic weight and are understood on a deeper level of the brain, so they ground us, connect us, and help us move emotionally from one place to another.
Goodnight kisses are a perfect example of a powerful ritual that helps children feel safe as they separate from us into the world of sleep and dreams. You can create small rituals to use throughout your day to reinforce your connection with your child, especially at moments of transition or separation. For instance, a goodbye ritual as you drop your child at school might include a little rhyme that gives reassurance that you always come back: “I love you, you love me…Have a wonderful day, and I’ll hug you lots at 3!”
- Become a Love Multi-Tasker with your attention. When you’re with two (or more!) children and feel like there’s not enough of you to go around, hold the vision of the experienced preschool teacher. She has her arm around one child, is smiling at a second child, and might well be speaking across the room to a third child. We can all find our internal version of this “Love Multi-Tasker” to help us feel grounded while we shift our attention rapidly from child to child to stay connected with all of them.
Notice the focus on connecting in these daily practices? They weave a web of love that holds your children as they move through their day. Your child will feel that connection and you’ll see the difference. When kids really feel seen and heard and connected, they don’t have to compete for our love, and sibling rivalry diminishes dramatically.
Dr. Laura Markham‘s new book on Siblings is available for pre-order! It won’t be on bookstore shelves (or in your mailbox) until May 5, but the advantage of pre-ordering is that you also get immediate access to her audio course, Peaceful Parenting. You can get the details and pre-order here.