Q. We’re getting ready to have a baby and our 5-year-old is not very happy about this new family addition. Did we wait too long? Do you have any ideas for helping him adjust appropriately before his little sister arrives?
A. First of all, congratulations! As to your question of having waited too long, I think not. With some thought, preparation, and planning, I am sure your firstborn will not only adjust, but come to love and value being a big brother.
For a frame of reference, child development views children born five years apart or greater as serial only children. This is neither seen as a positive or a negative, but does set up a certain dynamic within the family. Research tells us that while serial-onlys are in different developmental phases throughout childhood, they can still enjoy a close and loving relationship with siblings, particularly as adults.
In terms of helping your son adjust, the key is to continue making time for one-on-one interaction now and when the baby arrives. Give him jobs to do to help with the baby and praise him often for being such a help. You may also want to focus on things that big brothers get to do that babies do not. If you have not already, I would start to give him a small allowance. This shows him that there is an advantage to being the older and helpful brother. The praise gives him positive attention at a time when he might be feeling a bit neglected.
Try to keep him on his routine as much as possible during the next few months. The less change the better. You may see some regression in his behavior once the baby arrives. This might mean resistance to going to bed, toileting accidents, or whining. None of this is unusual and is generally short-lived. Continue to be calm, firm, and friendly in your response and this should pass. My bet is that once the baby arrives he will be fascinated watching her grow and develop and will come to love her dearly – most of the time!
Q. My son, age three, is having a rough start to preschool. He cries when I drop him off and makes quite a scene. Any suggestions?
A. This question always comes up at this time of the year. About a quarter of young children struggle with separation anxiety, so he is not alone. First and foremost, what’s your attitude? You need to set the tone for your son. Approach the new school year with the expectation that he is older and more mature and that he will have success. Next, give him the tools he needs to help this happen. You can do this by reading books at home that might help ease his concerns. I recently published a title that might be helpful, Simon and the Worry Watch. Audrey Penn’s The Kissing Hand is another example, and a classic choice. It’s also important to do what you can to make drop-off time go as smoothly as possible, which means no rushing. Because communication is important at every age, be sure to ask open-ended questions after the school session. What made you smile at school today? What was your favorite game?
If he has not adjusted successfully after to three weeks, you might inquire about an observation session in the classroom. It might help to see how the classroom operates so you can have a better handle on the situation. Remember that past experience does not necessarily predict future experience when it comes to children. Trust in time and life lessons to help your child acquire coping skills.