Guest Post By Naomi Aldort
Author of Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves
“Mommy, why do you need another Yonatan?” asked my first born looking at my growing belly. I hugged him and said, “I don’t need another Yonatan. There is no other Yonatan. You are the only “you” there will ever be and I love you so much.”
No matter how much we explain and include a young child in welcoming a new sibling, he will not comprehend this concept any more than you would welcome another lover in your spouse’s life.
In an extended family the situation is a lot easier, as mom is not the only caregiver. In the nuclear family, a seven-year-old would happily welcome a new baby as a wonderful addition, but a toddler or a young child who is still seeing himself as the needy one will have a lot of inner turmoil and needs your reassurance that she is still your darling child. It is not possible to eliminate the experience that comes with a new baby and there is nothing wrong with it. Instead the goal is to help your child to be powerful in the face of such a giant transition.
You won’t be always able to provide everything your child wants, but you can always stay connected, loving and affirming of her feelings and her emotional strength. Go with her on her path as a loving guide climbing a steep and exciting mountain. She can climb it if you believe she can and if she can fully express herself along the way.
Jealousy and playful healing
The motionless infant is non-threatening to the child. As soon he crawls, the real shock settles in, “This is another person who gets in my way, gets mom and dad’s attention, and wants what I want.”
The child whose former position as the only one in your arms is gone forever, can either feel anxious and helpless or excited and powerful, depending on your attitude. At some point, she is likely to annoy or try to hurt the baby either playfully or as an expression of a desire to rid herself of the new invader. When you notice these budding anxieties, recognize her need and avoid moralizing or giving her the impression that the baby is more important than she is. You can validate her feelings by saying, “Do you sometimes wish to be with me all alone again, without the baby?”
Listen to your child and make time to be with her and to let her know how much you cherish being with her alone. You can also tell her, “When I hold the baby, I love you. It doesn’t matter what and who I hold. I always love you.”
Little snatching toys games may be harmless and enjoyed by the baby as much as by the older child. If the baby is frustrated, protect him by providing another way for your child to play the “snatch and cause screaming game” with you or with her father. For example, try playing power games in which you say, “Don’t take the towel off the knob,” and then, “Oh no, she took the towel,” as you run after her to get the towel to no avail. Being with an understanding and playful parent; she won’t doubt your love or her own value, and she won’t need to hurt the baby.
Notice when your child heals herself
Children who feel helpless about their loss will start their own healing games. A father asked my advice about his three year old who, shortly after the baby mastered crawling, started throwing clothes all over the bedroom. He was also more grumpy than usual and was annoying the baby all day long. The father tried to stop him from throwing the clothes, to explain to him why clothes should be put nicely in drawers… to no avail. After the guiding phone session with me, his inclination to stop his son’s action changed as described in my book, Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves:
“…This time, when Chris entered the bedroom and gleefully emptied his drawers onto the floor, his father was ready. Seeing his clothes strewn about, he responded with a dramatic “Oh no!” which seemed to give Chris the sense of power he was looking for, “Aha, I got him.” Then his father folded the clothes and piled them back in the drawers so that Chris could repeat his self-made “therapy” again and again. Each time Chris threw the clothes out, his father responded with a louder and more dramatic “Oh no.” The game ended with the clothes all over the room and Dad “giving up” in exhaustion.
For two months Chris continued to initiate this game; and for two months his father gasped dramatically and then picked up the clothes, folded them, and put them away to be thrown all over again. All the while, father trusted his son’s need to play this game in order to gain a sense of power and autonomy. Chris’s irritability and disturbing behaviors have gradually diminished. One day he stopped dumping his clothes on the floor and has never done it again. Not only has he became very organized but his relationship with his sister flourished.”
When playing power games, it is crucial not to take a child’s power away. If you are the one to stop the game or to control its direction, the child feels helpless all over again. Doing this cancels most of the emotional benefits of the game.
A child who is aggressive toward the baby is telling you that she doubts your love and her own value. Saying, “But you love the baby, touch her nicely…” is not helpful as it contradicts her inner experience. This is not the time for “I love you” either. The young child who fantasizes hurting the baby will feel very guilty, “If mom only knew what I am imagining she would think I am horrible and will never love me.”
The greatest relief for the child is to know that you know what is going on inside of her. If you know what her fantasies are and you still love her, then, and only then, she can live at peace with herself and feel worthy of your love. It doesn’t mean you let her hurt the baby; you don’t. But say, “yes” to her emotional expression. Take her to another room with a doll and let her show you what she imagines herself doing to the baby and let her know that you know how she feels, that it is fine to have these fantasies, and that you love her.
Your child wants to do well, but cannot control herself (even if she covers up her feelings by pretending to laugh or not care.) She has no control over the fantasies nor over her actions. As one of my children (then five) once said, “Mommy, can the homeopath give me a remedy so I won’t want to hurt the baby? I want that.”
Helpful strategies with a jealous child
Your child’s attachment needs are especially important when they are challenged by the presence of a new baby. Make a conscious design to meet your child’s needs:
• Get help; find an older child or a friend to hold the baby so you can be with your child.
• Plan one-on-one time with your child daily, when your spouse or a relative is at home and when the baby is asleep.
• If your child wants to be a baby again, embrace his play.
• Provide new exciting activities that help your child see the benefits of being older and point out how exciting it is. “We get to ride the bike… go to the zoo… read a book etc.”
• Listen and stay connected.
• Give your child outlets to express his fantasies and share your own similar childhood memories. Once fully expressed and validated, the child won’t need to hurt the real baby any more.
• Instead of clean house, have happy souls, instead of ready dinner, be a content mother.
• Get more sleep by keeping the children in your bed and going to sleep at the same time to maximize your rest (intimacy with your spouse is just as fun in the morning or afternoon.)
• If your baby goes to sleep earlier, give your child time with both parents, which he misses so much.
©Copyright Naomi Aldort
Naomi Aldort is the author of, Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves (in 14 languages.) Parents from around the globe seek Aldort’s advice by phone, in person and by listening to her CDs and attending her workshops internationally. Her advice columns appear in progressive parenting magazines worldwide.
Naomi Aldort is married and a mother of three thriving young adults. For free newsletter, information on teleclasses, phone sessions and products: www.AuthenticParent.com