It is rather strange that so many women believe that if their children are closely spaced they will be able to get the whole business over with quickly and easily-as though they were building several additions to their house and wanted to get through the mess and bother at once to save themselves trouble later on. It maybe a practical decision when it comes to inanimate objects, but children don’t function that way. The less effort you put in at the beginning the longer and more difficult the process of raising them is likely to be.

The mother who wants her 18 month old off the bottle and out of nappies, because there is a second one on the way is creating just the kind of complication that is likely to make the child slow to give them up. Anything that tries to force the child’s growing up rate is likely to backfire, especially when it covers emotional development. Every child has the right to be a child, to grow through the various stages with enough time for the stimulation of her cognitive development and the nurturing of her emotional self. Even if all has gone well, it is not until at least three years of age that a child is ready to leave the intensive care of the mother figure.

There are adults who remember their large families with nostalgia, and siblings who are close in age and enjoy each other’s company. But there are many others who feel cheated of the opportunity to reach their full potential. As soon as another element enters the family mosaic the pattern is altered; inevitably and irrevocably. There are always changes that improve its quality and some that alter it for ever.

The arrival of another child is always a shock to the family structure, especially to the child who is already there. Some bounce back fairly quickly, absorbing the impact and expanding to accommodate the new situation. Others are so traumatised that they are altered for life. The damage shows itself in behaviour problems, physical symptoms or lack of self-esteem. The new arrival is faced with the fact that she can never be the only child in the family and with the need to compete with the other child for attention. Is an only child the answer then? Not necessarily. Although the only child often does particularly well, there is no need to deny yourself the pleasure of other children. Siblings can enrich each other and their parents’ lives immeasurably. But expanding your family is best done sensibly. Spacing children at least three years apart gives each one a chance to develop soundly. It gives the mother the opportunity to nurture them through the all-important first years without short-changing her children, her spouse or herself. Physically it is also better for the mother, and financially it can mean an easier time too.

Pleas for a baby by an older child. Little girls especially go through a stage when they are crazy about babies and visiting someone with a baby may be anticipated more eagerly than the circus. She may urge her mother to provide her with a baby, and promise so convincingly to help look after her that you may feel that there will be no problems with the new arrival.

But a child’s fantasy of having a baby sister is vastly different from reality. She may think of her as a doll she will be able to play with, or a friend who can share her fun.

When she discovers that the baby is not to be handled, and that her mother is often occupied with the baby when she would like her attention, she will not be impressed. So don’t think because your child is enthusiastic about the idea of a baby that everything will go smoothly.

Preparing a child for the arrival of a baby. Unless her life has been so deprived and the quality of the mothering she has received so poor that nothing makes much difference to her, you can take it that your child will be jealous of the new baby.

Some parents think that they should not tell their child ahead of time about the coming event, but few children are so young that they do not understand what is being said even though they may not be able to say much. Knowing that something is happening and not being told will make the child even more insecure than the truth. All children love hearing stories about themselves and if you concentrate on telling her how you felt when you were pregnant with her, and how you prepared for her and longed for her arrival, she will take it better than if you merely include her in the preparations for the baby with the emphasis on new baby. You can say something like this: ‘And then we bought the bootees, and granny knitted you a lovely little jacket like this one, and we all wondered if you’d be a boy or a girl, and we made sure everything was nice for you and you were exactly what we wanted. . .’ Keep up the stories with her in the limelight, after all, the baby will not care.

She will probably start wishing she was a baby again so help her to project into the future, when the baby will be there.

Tell her stories about what is going to happen in her life. If she is going to go to nursery school, emphasise the preparations you will have to make for that, how you will buy a lunch box, apron, etc. Tell her that little babies are helpless and have to be cared for, that you will have to spend time looking after the baby like

you did with her. Tell her that she will be your very special helper because she can already do things for herself, and she can draw, and make sand castles, sit on a potty, brush her teeth, and so on.

If the baby is going to be using her cot, either change her to a bed as soon as possible without mentioning that the baby will be needing the cot; or leave her in the cot and beg or borrow another one when the time comes. The advantage of keeping her in a cot for a long time is that she will not be able to get out of it on impulse if the sides are high enough. But it should never be used to isolate her, or as punishment. Don’t choose the month of the baby’s arrival to potty train her – it is easier to face the fact of extra nappies for a while than to have her regress after she has been trained.

Jealousy. If you accept the fact that there will be jealousy, at least for a time, you will find that you understand her behaviour much better. Look at it this way. If your husband announced that he was bringing home a cute young woman who would share your life and all your privileges, and told you that you should love her and be kind to her . . . you would be furious. Yet a child is expected to be enthusiastic about a rival who turns out to be useless as a companion, yet attracts everyone’s attention in the most infuriating way.

It is not surprising that some children resort to crude methods like pinching or slapping their infant siblings in an attempt to get rid of them. Other more sensitive, cerebral children tend to internalise their anger by developing psychosomatic symptoms or regressing to infantile behaviour. Sudden aches and pains, bed wetting, thumb sucking, refusal to eat, holding on to stools or urine, temper tantrums, contrariness, aggressiveness, withdrawal and depression are some of the symptoms of jealousy. They can be particularly trying at a time when the mother is under strain herself, and she will need all the support possible to help her cope. Unfortunately, although the father can do a great deal to keep the older child occupied and help her maintain her sense of self, she will want her mother’s attention too. You will have to keep telling her that nothing has changed in your love for her. Be realistic about the baby, admit that she is not much fun now and that she takes up a lot of time, but assure her that things will improve and that she will have a playmate before too long.

Try to set aside a special period every day when you and the older child can relate only to each other. Either at story time, or in some other way. With luck and good management the worst should be over fairly quickly.

Honesty. Children are normally perfectly honest in their approach to others. If she says she hates the baby, there is no point in saying, ‘No, you don’t dear. You Jove the baby.’ She knows how she feels and making a liar out of her or loading her with guilt is only going to complicate matters. You can acknowledge her feelings without condoning them.

Ensure that she has sufficient opportunities for imaginative play so that she can live out her emotions in an acceptable way. Dressing up and acting like a mother or playing with a doll or pretending to be a pirate can help her come to terms with her feelings. But don’t think you can make them go away simply by telling her they are wicked, or that she is not really experiencing them.


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