One major adjustments for many infants is learning to share their parent with another baby. For many, this is an exciting time but for others it brings to the fore the ongoing issues that the child has around its own sense of security. What is common for all older children is the mixed emotions that a new member of the family will bring.
Much of research on the impact of a new sibling into family life has focused on when one of the children has a disability or chronic illness. Siblings Australia are very active in supporting research and collating this type of research. See http://siblingsaustralia.org.au/research-journals.php
In the community though there are many parents and infants who struggle with this transition moment. The reasons for this are many and may be present beyond the issue of the new sibling. Older children are often at a time in their lives where they are experiencing intense emotions, like love and hate, and will need support from parents if they are to learn “ I’m Ok and you’re OK” as they meet the new baby.
For families, their own experience of their sibling relationship appears to be highly significant. Parents will say “ I want them to be close and love each other” or “ There are going to be no favorites in this household!” or other statements that derive from their own lived experiences and can lead to emotional loading that does not support the transition.
Often too parents have tried to make the older child feel that they are the “ big” child now and this may add to the loss and confusion the child may experience. Children will often regress at stress points, just when parents are hoping they will be making the “step up” to make room for the new baby! Toilet training, sleep routines and other developmental milestones frequently lose gains made and this can add to parent’s frustrations and again leave an older child in a difficult space. Often encouraging parents to treat the older child as if they are still “ little” and in need of lots of assistance will break the battle ground that can become set up. In addition helping parents tolerate and empathise with their child’s emotional response to the new baby, will often be the biggest challenge. This involves allowing them to express anger and frustration without shame, all the while setting limits to ensure everyone is safe. Ensuring that each child’s needs are not ‘dropped” from the mind of the caregiver, will demand much from often sleep deprived parents but will help smooth the way in a hugely emotionally demanding time for the older child. Then the much wanted hope that they will support each other through thick and thin may be realised!